Un-betaed, shorter chapter

Things as they are

Chapter 17

"You were talking?" Minato asked, the disbelief clear in his tone and gaze.

Sasuke was sitting up now, eating some ramen as he explained his near death like state. Naruto hadn't said a word, choosing to stand by a window and observe. Sasuke could tell that there was something else on his mind but the more pressing matter was to get the attention off of himself.

"Yes, he's somewhat talkative if you give him the right incentive." Sasuke explained, moving his gaze towards his chopsticks. The food only served to remind him of what the kyuubi had shown him. It was no small wonder as to why Naruto was no longer fond of Ramen. It probably reminded him too much of his mother. 'No longer being fond' was a weak description of Naruto's reaction to the stuff on a normal day. Today was not a normal day and as such the younger blond was ignoring Sasuke.

"Anything in particular?" Minato continued, raising a brow.

Sasuke wondered if he was going to be under scrutiny for the rest of his life. As it was, he wasn't sure what was going to happen considering no one had brought up his supposed Uchiha teacher since the invasion.

Choosing not to answer Minato truthfully wasn't going to help him.

"I asked him why Naruto was so angry all the time." Sasuke kept his eyes fixed on Minato, watching the way the man flinched slightly, the way his eyes dulled and the way his mouth thinned.

Guilt.

Sasuke knew the feeling, was trying to ignore it, but couldn't quite get there.

"Did he tell you?" Minato questioned, his tone more strained then just a moment before.

"Yes and no. He showed me." Sasuke looked away, not wanted to see the pain anymore. "It was interesting to see the world from another's point of view." His gaze landed on Naruto who was no longer ignoring him. The blue gaze had sharpened, zeroed in on Sasuke. There was a question in that gaze. One that pride would never allow him to ask out loud.

-You'll never know how sorry I am, Naruto . . . – The thought trailed off and Sasuke's mind was blank for a moment, taking in the way Naruto's jaw moved as though he'd just snapped his teeth together. A silent display of anger, or a pain he was trying to ignore.

-Guess this world is more like my own than I originally thought. Just with us on opposite sides of the fence.-

Sasuke watched the blond shift, watched as the thoughts ran through his eyes before looking away, back at the noodles. He had nothing to say right now. He wasn't great at comfort.

Naruto wanted to say something, but he hesitated. If Sasuke had seen the events of that night, if he'd seen it all with a whole new perspective then maybe, just maybe he knew who had – no! He wouldn't resort to that. He would find the answer himself.

He suppressed a sigh. He had no leads other than the Uchiha sitting across the room and he refused to use it. Was he really after revenge if that was his attitude? He was willing to go to the snake. He could feel it in the way the curse mark throbbed ever so slightly. It pulled at his thoughts when he wasn't careful. He had decided the day he'd gotten it that he was an Avenger. He would deliver justice, even if it meant going to Orochimaru.

But then, why did the idea of asking Uchiha disgust him so much?

Was it because Sasuke was his rival? His 'measuring stick' for his own halted progress? Sasuke was a distraction at the moment. He wasn't the same and therefore he was distracting Naruto from what was really important.

Deep down he knew that he missed the previous Sasuke. This imposter was cold, forced, and had a gaze that was far too piercing. He saw things, things that Naruto was trying desperately to hide. He missed the Sasuke that he'd goaded into pranks, and getting ice cream before dinner. He missed the version of himself that had been goading the impressionable version of Sasuke before that night as much as he missed the old Sasuke.

Naruto abruptly got up and started walking to the only door he could see in the safe house. He yanked it open, uncaring that he found himself in a bathroom and closed the door behind him. He needed to remember what he was aiming for. He couldn't allow these distractions.

He turned on the faucet and splashed cool water over his face, hoping to wash the images of a smiling Sasuke and an ever watchful Itachi from his mind. He hoped to rid himself of the doubt that had begun to seep into his thoughts, the aversion to do what was necessary to find the person that had killed his mother.

He allowed images of that night – the pain on his mother's face, the brother he never got to meet, the utter helplessness he'd felt – to fill his mind. He gripped the sides of the sink, eyes glaring at his reflection, while the seal around Orochimaru's curse mark flared and burned.

Sasuke was an afterthought, a problem to be solved later.

First, he had to get revenge for his mother. Someone had to. His father clearly wouldn't. That speech from earlier. It was clearer now. More so than ever. All Naruto learned from that, other than the fact that no one trusted him, was that his father had lost all intention to find and punish those that had taken away all that was precious to him.

Minato wasn't ready to let the matter drop. "Do you talk to him often?" Sasuke seemed intent on shrugging the matter aside.

"No. Like I said, he's not that chatty." Sasuke looked away from the noodles and focused on the Yondaime once more.

"I suppose being able to talk to him isn't too far off considering the seal was cracked a little while ago. Just try not to make a habit of it. They're not the sanest of beings." Minato didn't like it but he couldn't stop it. Kushina had talked to the fox all the time. Said he had a terrible sense of humour. She'd been fond of him. But if you were forced to be with someone for the rest of your life, you either made friends or stayed miserable.

Minato looked at Sasuke, wondering if that's what he was trying to do. Make friends? Or learn how to control the beast for darker purposes. There was no way to know for sure. At least he knew the seal was intact and that the near deathlike state was merely a by-product of sharing a memory with the fox. It wouldn't happen often, and the seal wasn't failing. In light of recent events, he could let it slide, for now.

.0.0.0.

Kakashi looked up as Obito approached. The Uchiha grinned and held out a bright orange book. "Want to see what the fuss is about?" Obito teased, waving the book in front of Kakashi's eye.

"Sasuke was in a semi-coma this morning. Does Itachi-kun know?" Kakashi chose to ignore the book, satisfied when the statement caused said book to disappear from view. "What happened?" Obito demanded.

"Don't know. Hokage is with him now. I think it's got something to do with the Kyuubi." Kakashi shrugged. He moved to the side so that Obito could sit down next to him. They were at the park, Kakashi having been reading a book while he waited for new orders.

"That kid sure is full of surprises." Obito sighed, sitting down next to Kakashi and rubbing a hand over his eyes. "You know, when he graduated I wanted to give him my old goggles."

"I thought I told you to burn those things." Kakashi suppressed the shudder.

"Yeah? Well I still have both my eyes." Obito poked Kakashi's shoulder. "Found anything on the Chidori records yet?" He changed the subject quickly, knowing that the reminder was not one Kakashi wanted.

"No. I checked the library, the records room, the Academy textbooks, and the bookstores in Konoha. Nothing mentions the jutsu." Kakashi's frown was clear in his tone. The only place he hadn't checked was the Uchiha library but he didn't have access to that. "Anywhere else and he should not have been able to get there."

"Maybe Minato-sensei told him about it?" Obito offered, ever the optimist.

"Maybe. I haven't gotten the chance to ask him." Kakashi looked down at his hand, his mind remembering the surge of the lightning as he activated the jutsu. "Sasuke was rather well versed in the use of lightning jutsu. I didn't know he could use lighting style." Kakashi muttered, looking to Obito who'd technically trained the younger Uchiha for a month.

"Don't look at me. None of us can use it either so we can't exactly teach it." Obito raised his hands in defence, referring to himself, Itachi and Shisui.

"That Uchiha teacher of his, lightning isn't common among the Uchiha is it?" Kakashi mused, having been keeping an eye on the Uchiha genin and chunin. Just because of the Chidori. It was hard to accept the 'death' of his most powerful technique simply due to it being locked away.

"That teacher doesn't exist. We've done a complete sweep of all available records." Obito's tone had turned serious. Sasuke had lied. But then who had the Uchiha that had been helping with the summons during the invasion been?

"Every time that guy was around he was a Shadow Clone." Obito continued. He grit his teeth in silent anger before moving his jacket aside to pull a mask into view. "I just got back from Sasuke's apartment. This was in one of the drawers."

"So there was never a teacher." Kakashi concluded. He wasn't surprised. Neither of them were. The story was just so unlikely. But that put them back at square one. Why was Sasuke different?

"He knew too much. About the invasion. About the snakes, the barrier, the spy, heck even Orochimaru." Obito clipped the mask back into place. "Yet his devotion to Minato-sensei is unquestionable."

"You say that." Kakashi stood, eyes growing hard, "but we don't know what he was reacting to."

Obito watched him walk away, thoughts lingering on what Kakashi had said. Was Sasuke really trying to get Minato out of the barrier, or was he trying to get Orochimaru out?

.0.0.0.

"Itachi."

The call was soft, simple. His mother.

He poked his head in the room she'd called from, finding her kneeling on the floor with the old family photos spread around her. He hadn't been home a lot lately. With Sasuke out of the compound he found less and less reason to be there. His concern had always been his younger brother, always would be.

"At the exams," Mikoto began, "S-Sasuke seemed different." She still had trouble accepting what had happened to Sasuke under the Third's orders. Sasuke had been chosen for his age, his bloodline, and his connection to Fugaku and Itachi. Mikoto hadn't really forgiven the order. Probably never would so long as she believed the toddler she'd raised before the sealing was no longer there.

"Yes, we've been battling with that ourselves." Itachi admitted. He knew that perhaps a new perspective could provide new answers.

"What do you mean?" Mikoto turned away from the photos to look at her oldest son.

"Since his graduation, he's been different. Completely and utterly."

Mikoto's mind turned to that day Sasuke had come back to the compound. The look on his face. It had been disbelief, joy, adoration, and strangely fear. He'd been utterly confused by their aversion of him. It was as though he hadn't known about his leaving the clan, that he hadn't known of the Kyuubi and how others saw him because of it.

"He's no longer the same loud, overbearing child we looked over on Hokage's orders. He was cold, aloof. He didn't care for his pre-genin sensei nor his dream to become the Hokage. He passed the exams without difficulty. He even seemed to have certain expectations of his teammates that were not met. His actions have shown a growing confusion to that which has been the norm for years." Itachi continued.

"Are you sure it's still him?" Mikoto dared to whisper. Suddenly the thought of the child no longer being the same made her realise that perhaps she'd never lost her little boy after all. Not until now. "Is it not maybe the fox?"

"No. It's still him. Just not." Itachi's tone showed his frustration with the matter. His task had been Sasuke ever since that graduation exam. Hence the invasion had gotten as far as it had. His attention had been divided. Well that and he hadn't been ordered to stop it.

Minato-sama had wanted to learn more of Orochimaru's plans. Knowledge was everything.

Orochimaru wanted to punish Minato-sama for the seal he'd placed on the Uchiha clan. The seal that prevented anyone else from learning or abusing their secrets. He'd made adjustments to the Hyuuga's curse seal and that prevented anyone from gaining the other prized Dojutsu.

"A spy?" Mikoto tone was hoarse, the possibility of a stranger walking around in her son's body coming to mind. "The body might be his, but the mind?"

"I've thought of that. But I'll need to get closer to him. He's become somewhat guarded around me. Fearful even. I attributed it to the earlier incident but no. It's more than that. If it were the earlier incident he'd have been fearful of himself. There are moments where his thoughts are on his features, completely unguarded. I've approached him once or twice when he was like that. There was a look in his eyes. It was only the barest of moments, but it was enough." Itachi didn't finish. He didn't want to say it out loud. His little brother was absolutely petrified of him.

"But then it's gone, like he's caught up to reality." Itachi added. Upon reflection he'd decided it would be impolite to leave the sentence so unfinished.

"Your brother never did have a healthy perception of your abilities. Perhaps he's finally realised the gap between you two." Fugaku was leaning against the doorframe. Mikoto jumped slightly, yet Itachi didn't react. He'd heard his father's arrival shortly after he'd entered the room. Itachi wished he could agree with his father.

"Perhaps." He hummed instead, moving to the door. He had to get close enough to Sasuke to get inside his mind. With Sasuke's activated Sharingan it became so much easier.

-I'll find you Otouto. Your disappearance has not gone unnoticed. Wait for me.-

.0.0.0.

It had been a few days since the semi-coma incident with Sasuke. Since then the Uchiha had sparred with Sakura, trained on his own and merely gone about his days. Naruto waited, for what he wasn't sure. Maybe an opportunity to ask what the Kyuubi had shown him? Maybe for a spar? Or was it for an outward sign that he wasn't Uchiha Sasuke?

And once again, Naruto was berating himself for his own lack of focus. He shouldn't care who the Uchiha was. He was supposed to be getting stronger, strong enough to avenge his mother's cruel and pointless death.

He found himself seated in a secluded training ground, lost in his thoughts.

So lost that he didn't notice the ninja approaching him.

"Naruto-kun."

He looked up in surprise. His eyes narrowed when he looked at Kakashi approaching him almost lazily. Well as lazy as Kakashi could be, which wasn't all that much. "Hatake." Naruto tsked in response and looked away.

"I wanted to congratulate you on your performance during the invasion. I know your father hasn't announced the promotions yet, but I'm optimistic." Kakashi continued, ignoring the disrespect.

"What do you really want? Flattery isn't your style." Naruto's annoyance was beginning to show. Kakashi figured he hadn't been dwelling on pleasant thoughts before his interruption.

"Let it go."

Naruto's gaze shot back to him, his eyes wide and confused.

"It's not worth it. Kami knows that I more than anyone should have reason to hate the world." Kakashi continued. "That curse mark may offer you power but it comes with a price. A petty one that is by no means worth it to you. Everything Orochimaru did, was aimed at your father. He doesn't care about you or your goals. He's going to do nothing more than use you."

"You don't know what I want or what he'll do." Naruto spat back.

"My point, Naruto, is that there are those with you here and now that can help you ease the pain you feel. Going to Orochimaru is not something that will ease your pain. He'll only cause you more." Kakashi paused, shifting his weight awkwardly, "I'm not great with the comforting stuff. I never was and I'm not going to pretend now. I've had my fair share of losses, some my fault and others out of my control. No amount of killing the enemy makes that pain go away. It doesn't make you feel any less lonely at night when you think no one is watching. However, what does help, is letting your comrades in. They won't replace those that you lost, but you'll find that by forming new bonds it gives you something worth fighting for, something worth staying for."

It was the most Naruto had ever heard the jonin say in one go and he was inclined to agree with the man on his way with words. But he got the gist of it, despite how awkwardly they were delivered.

"You weren't there." Naruto growled, getting up and moving towards the trees.

"No, but I've been through enough to know how it went down." Kakashi tilted his head to the side, shifting his weight by means of a challenge. "Your mother was a great Shinobi. She knew what she was doing."

"No." Naruto paused and glared at Kakashi. "By standing there, by 'letting it go' we're sending a message to those who oppose us. We're telling them that we don't care. She doesn't deserve that. She means more than 'letting it go'."

Naruto walked away with a definitive stomp to his gait before Kakashi could say anymore. The jonin watched him go with a calculating gaze before a puff of smoke announced the cancellation of a henge jutsu. For someone so sure he was an imposter, his observational skills were lacking.

Sasuke sighed wearily at the failure.

It had taken more than Orochimaru's promise of power to sway his decision to follow the snake. He'd had to suffer a crushing defeat by both Itachi and the Sound Four before he'd made up his mind. Kakashi's speech had had an effect on him. A positive one. Honestly, he'd actually been a little terrified by how quickly he'd been willing to give up on his quest to avenge his clan.

However, even with Sasuke's poorly worded speech, Naruto was not swayed. Not in the least.

That was worrisome. He hadn't formed any bonds. Sasuke's behaviour as of late had forced the blond into a state of high alert and suspicion. Too much to develop the same bonds he'd had with his own Naruto.

Would the Sound Four come again?

Not likely but a possibility. He wasn't ruling it out. In his world over a month had passed before they'd come. Would it be the same this time?

He left the training ground and moved towards the apartment buildings. It was nearing night time. He wanted to get some sleep so that he could start training bright and early. Missions seemed to have been put on hold following the invasion. All he could do for now, was watch closely for signs of Orochimaru's underlings.

.0.0.0.

"You called, Hokage-sama."

"Have a seat Itachi-kun." Minato smiled and gestured at the comfy chair across from himself. He wasn't even seated at the Hokage desk.

Itachi nodded once and moved to the chair as directed. If Minato was honest with himself he believed that Itachi would one day succeed him in taking the hat. Yet somehow that didn't feel right. Itachi's whole persona was so 'background'. It wasn't loud and trusting like Obito's or carefree and relaxed like Shisui's. It was actually very Kakashi-like.

"I want you to move in with Sasuke-kun. Previous methods have proven unsuccessful in learning what changed. He'll be hard pressed to hide things if you're there all the time. I'm also going to take you off the mission roster. For the moment. Konoha is in a bit of a bind in that the invasion hurt our reputation a bit, even if it was one we allowed to happen." Minato had learned a long time ago that with Itachi getting to the point was best.

"And my father?" Itachi saw that as being the only obstacle to the plan.

"I've already spoken with him. He seemed to agree. So long as it was temporary." Minato smiled cheerfully. "But Itachi-kun, you are old enough to make your own decisions. A clan head can live outside of a clan compound if that is what you're worried about."

"I'm not the clan head yet, Minato-sama." Itachi reminded quietly, with a small incline of his head. "I shall gather my things tonight."

"Do you think he's an imposter?" Minato's mood shifted to exhaustion and over-bearing concern in the blink of an eye but Itachi was used to it enough to not openly react.

"Yes and no." Itachi paused a moment to consider his words. "He is still the same in body but in mind we cannot be certain until I am close enough to use a Sharingan technique. I can link my Sharingan with his and see into his mind. Not all that different from what Inochi-san can do."

"Well, I leave it to you. Unfortunately I cannot dedicate more of my time to the matter. With the invasion, our position is being called into question. I have the Fire Daimyo coming here in roughly a month's time. I need to prepare the paperwork necessary to prove to him that we are still the renowned village of power he has come to expect and enjoy having at his disposal." The disdain on Minato's face was all too clear and Itachi almost smiled.

"Hai, understood. How often would you like for me to report back?" Itachi questioned, mentally preparing himself for the mission.

"Only when something significant comes to light." Minato waved hand distractedly. "Oh and Itachi-kun, I'm sorry. For making you do this." Minato's gaze grew remorseful, "But you know him best, as well as are the most equipped for this mission."

"Understood." Itachi lowered his head before getting to his feet. "I'll have a report ready, when it's needed."

Minato's thoughts were already far away and Itachi took that as his cue to leave. It was a difficult time for the man and Itachi didn't blame him.

After quietly closing the door to the Hokage's office, Itachi disappeared from the Hokage Tower, reappearing outside where he immediately dashed towards the Uchiha district.

.0.0.0.

Sasuke didn't expect the knock. He frowned at the door from his position by the dining table and seriously considered ignoring it. He sighed in annoyance before getting up and going to the door. It was probably Sakura again.

He wasn't expecting Itachi.

At all.

"Evening Sasuke-kun. May I come in." It wasn't really a question. Sasuke narrowed his gaze when he spotted the travel bag usually taken on long missions.

"I'm moving in for a bit. Father and I had a disagreement and I'm letting him cool down." Itachi continued when it appeared as though Sasuke wasn't going to move aside. The younger Uchiha stood silently for a moment longer before shrugging and walking back to his half eaten dinner. Not his problem. Besides there was only one room and Itachi sure as hell wasn't taking it.

Itachi closed the door behind him, surprised by the easy acceptance. Perhaps his brother wasn't in the mood for conflict. Or perhaps he was genuinely happy to have Itachi there. That would be the preferable outcome.

He looked over the simple meal that Sasuke had prepared for himself, mentally noting that it wasn't ramen. He also took note that it was a meal that most single men prepared for themselves. It wasn't overly complicated, while still being somewhat nutritional. He hadn't expected Sasuke to know that meal.

"Help yourself." Sasuke's tone was more of a lazy drawl than an invitation but Itachi had come to expect that from the younger Uchiha during their training month. Itachi had already eaten but sat down across from Sasuke. He picked up a strip of chicken from the Miso Chicken Teriyaki and slowly chewed it, watching Sasuke as the younger Uchiha seemed intent on ignoring him.

Ignoring him or carrying on with his plans before Itachi's arrival.

"So what did you fight about?" Sasuke asked, the silence growing awkward. He knew that Itachi would have let the silence grow and he supposed he could have continued doing that, had he not had Sakura and Naruto as teammates. They hated long periods of silence.

"You." Itachi replied simply.

Sasuke didn't know enough about this world to make any guesses or even responses to that remark so he chose to remain silent.

When the meal was done he gathered the dishes and took them to the kitchen. He washed them and left them to dry on the rack. Going back to the living room, he noted that Itachi was no longer in view. His bag was open but left in the corner of the room. Sasuke ignored it and went to the bedroom. The bathroom door was shut so he assumed that was where Itachi had gone.

He pulled off his shirt and started to untie his headband. He dropped his shirt in the wash basket and the headband on his side table. Kicking off his shorts and flicking his foot towards the wash basket sent the fabric over the top and towards the bottom where his shirt rested. He still had a day or two before he needed to do a load of laundry.

He yanked a pair of boxers from his drawers and headed to the bed.

He needed to be up bright and early if he was going to go after Naruto. The mindset Naruto had was rather unsettling. It was going to be more than a challenge to get the Namikaze to change his mind.

The bathroom door opened just as Sasuke pulled the covers back. Sasuke blinked and suddenly Itachi was there, the blanket neatly draped over his lower half while his arms were crossed behand his head. His smirk was absolutely devilish and rather un-Itachi like. But then again this was a different Itachi from the one Sasuke knew.

He scowled at the man before deciding there was no way in hell his brother kicked him out of his own bed. Sasuke promptly yanked the blanket back and squeezed himself onto the bed before pulling the blanket up to his chin. Itachi chuckled softly before gently pulling Sasuke into a more comfortable position.

Inwardly his mind was processing all the ways a person was most vulnerable in their sleep, ways he could possible achieve his objective.

"If you snore, I'll stab you with a kunai." Sasuke warned as he allowed himself to relax into the new situation. He'd had sleepovers with Itachi before, but it had been a long time ago for him. He had to keep reminding himself that this was not the same Itachi.

A first and glaring indicator was the fact that he'd had a fight with Fugaku.

Itachi didn't reply, marvelling at how at ease Sasuke was. It was hard to see the boy as an imposter when his actions spoke so clearly that he wasn't. But Itachi still needed to find out what had changed. Hence he'd forced the boy into a potentially uncomfortable position. As brothers Sasuke had run to him plenty of times when he'd had a nightmare or when there was a particularly bad storm. This was not something a stranger would ever be comfortable with. They would have glared and left the room or attempted to kick the older Uchiha out.

Sasuke was completely relaxed, his breaths light and even. Itachi didn't plan on sleeping that night, but it was warm, it was comfortable, and having Sasuke so close… it was nostalgic. Before ten minutes had passed the older Uchiha was just as asleep as the younger.

.0.0.0.

Naruto walked through the door, not even bothering to announce his arrival since he knew his father wasn't home yet. He'd picked up some dango on the way home so he wasn't even going to bother making something to eat. He pulled his head band off and tossed it on the side table by the sofa.

"Namikaze Naruto."

Said Shinobi whirled around to face the kitchen, where another shinobi was waiting.

"Kabuto." Naruto snarled, pulling out a kunai and pointing it at the teen.

"Relax. If I'd wanted to kill you I'd have done it already." Kabuto smirked at him, not at all concerned with the kunai. "In fact I'm surprised by the complete lack of security around you and your house." Kabuto continued.

"Why are you here? You must know how idiotic it is coming back to Konoha after the exams." Naruto narrowed his gaze, completely aware that Kabuto was far stronger than him.

"I'm a spy Naruto-kun. I don't have to worry about being spotted. My job has been getting into places I shouldn't be for as long as I can remember." Kabuto shrugged, helping himself to some orange juice. "I'm here to see you. Orochimaru-sama is most eager to know if you'll be joining him. He thought perhaps your father had grown overprotective."

Overprotective? What did that mean? That he'd have a detail following him round the clock?

"Sorry to disappoint. I don't mean that much to him." Naruto put the kunai away. Kabuto wasn't a threat for now. So long as Naruto was someone Orochimaru wanted alive, Kabuto would be a fool if he tried anything.

"Oh you'd be surprised, Naruto-kun. Your father is actually under a lot of pressure right now. A lot of people are questioning his leadership. Some believe that it's time for him to stand down. You know, there are a lot of candidates for the hat. Uchiha Itachi for one." Kabuto chuckled. "Right now your father is at his most distracted. It would be the opportune time for you to leave Konoha without much resistance. All high level Shinobi are on missions, trying to salvage a bad situation in the eyes of the people that give Konoha her missions. Her life blood so to speak. Kakashi-sensei is out on a mission right now. Received it today. High level stuff. I don't think you'll be missed for a day or two at the least."

Naruto opened his mouth to reply, but closed it when he realised he had no idea as to what he'd say.

Here this man was, offering to take him to Orochimaru. Was this it? Was this the moment he decided whether he was going or staying?

Naruto didn't want to think he was disloyal to his village, but the fact of the matter was, he'd only ever become a Shinobi for one reason.

It wasn't to impress his father.

"When do we leave?"

"I was hoping you'd say that." Kabuto's smile was revolting. "However, before we leave, your curse mark. It's only in stage one. Allow me to begin the procedure to fix that. Once in stage two it'll be so much more stable, allow you more power."

Naruto watched as Kabuto pulled out a scroll, summoning a barrel of sorts into the room. He didn't care what was needed. Only one thing mattered right now and that was his mother and brother. He would avenge them no matter what.

.0.0.0.

Itachi had woken up with a start only to be completely trapped under his younger brother.

Sasuke was still fast asleep, elongated claws digging into Itachi's arm and chest. His eyes were clenched shut, his breathing harsh. Was he having a nightmare? Itachi carefully tried to move Sasuke's fingers away from his arm but the slight movement had the boy clutching harder. They broke through the skin and blood tickled his skin.

"Sasuke." Itachi decided to try wake him. The younger Uchiha shifted but otherwise remained asleep. His eyes clenched tighter. "Sasuke, wake up."

The voice was hazy, but it didn't penetrate the dream. Sasuke felt like he should react to the call, but he knew better than to try. Not when it was this dream.

"There is no value in killing the likes of you... Foolish little brother, if you wish to kill me, then hate me, detest me, curse me, and survive in an unsightly way. Run, run and cling to your pitiful life." So it was that dream again, was it? It didn't matter how many nights it haunted his sleep, he could never find a way to wake himself from it.

"I have acted like the older brother you desired for one reason, because I wanted to discover how powerful you were. I needed to find a worthy opponent to test the limits of my own abilities. You, have that unique potential. Hating me, will give you the desire to defeat me which is the exact reason I'm going to allow you to live. Don't you see, it's all for my own benefit? Like me, you may be one of the few that can use Mangekyou Sharingan. But there is a catch." Here Itachi paused and Sasuke stared at him in confusion and terror, "Take the life of your best friend. You must kill him!" Mangekyou eyes swirled into existence, glaring at Sasuke. "Just like I did."

It began to morph, the world growing dark as Itachi walked away. That person changed to Naruto, the bright orange jacket more visible than anything else. Sasuke reached out to him but as always Naruto was miles ahead of him.

When had the dobe gotten so far ahead?

Itachi grit his teeth as Sasuke's hands flexed, the nails digging in deeper. The nightmare must have been a rather distressing one if the Kyuubi's chakra was reacting to it.

Itachi moved purposefully, yanking himself away from Sasuke and flipping the boy onto his back. "Wake up Sasuke!"

Eyes sprang open, revealing a fading red, while his entire body jolted in shocked surprise.

Sasuke's panicked gaze looked towards the blood on Itachi's arm, and then the blood on his own hand.

And then tears.

Large, regretful tears replaced the panic.

"Aniki, I didn't mean to." Sasuke whispered, choking back the sobs.

"Come on, let's go clean up." Itachi found himself picking the smaller shinobi up, like he used to when they were younger. He took the sobbing child to the bathroom, where Sasuke clung to him like a truly frightened child and for that moment Itachi believed that the old Sasuke was there.

Itachi was surprised by how much Sasuke was relying on him. He was forced to move Sasuke onto his back so that he could tend to his arm with the small first aid kit. Sasuke's sobs had grown to quiet sniffles as he hugged himself onto Itachi, as though afraid that Itachi would leave if he let go.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Itachi offered, having already washed the blood from Sasuke's hands.

"No." Sasuke was pouting, he could hear it in the boy's tone.

"Come on, let's get back to bed then." Itachi moved towards the bed, mentally wondering if he shouldn't set up a bed on the floor so as not to have a repeat incident. Yet, Sasuke's clinginess made him hesitate. "Are you going to be okay now?" Itachi asked, pulling Sasuke from his back and gently putting him back into the bed. Sasuke nodded, eyes not meeting Itachi's.

Sasuke's eyes moved to the bandage on Itachi's arm, eyes beginning to well up with tears but not the same heavy sobs from earlier. Itachi scooted in next to Sasuke, smiling softly at him. "It's time to sleep. We can discuss this some more in the morning."

Itachi wasn't going to fall asleep again. But Sasuke should. He was more vulnerable in his sleep.

Sasuke's jaw tightened at the mention of having a proper talk and just like that it was as though Itachi were looking at an entirely different person. Sasuke shifted away from him, as far as he could in the small bed.

"Sleep well, Sasuke-kun."

Sasuke didn't reply.

.0.0.0.

Sakura banged on Sasuke's door, panicked and unsure of what to do. It was early but Sasuke hadn't been sleeping as deeply as he had in the academy. He was usually on time to the meetings and missions. That meant he couldn't be sleeping too deeply. They still had time. He'd know what to do.

She wasn't expecting Uchiha Itachi to answer. He was in casual clothing, but Sakura was trained enough to note the crinkle lines that meant Itachi was essentially in his pajamas. Was he staying here now? That made no sense. He was the clan Heir. They wouldn't let him leave?

"Haruno-san, how may I be of assistance?"

Sakura's surprise was quickly brushed aside, as she gasped out "It's Naruto, he's gone."

.0.0.0.