Chapter 18 – How Imouto Eats

Somehow, Jiraiya was able to pinpoint his former teammate's location almost immediately. Sasuke wasn't sure how, but he pattered along in his fastest run while they made their way out of the small village and into the forests beyond, shielding their eyes from the noon light.

When they made their way to clearing, they didn't expect to see Tsunade standing beside Itachi, laying her Shousen over a bruise on the side of his face. The green chakra enveloped him in a healing glow and Sasuke's confusion made him pause in his tracks. Beside him, Jiraiya laughed loudly and walked towards her.

"Hime! Nice to see that you're still as good as they say," he greeted, stopping beside her to glace at her former opponent. "So this must be the Uchiha prodigy."

"Prodigy sounds right," she muttered. "He needs a bit of work, but he's better with those eyes than almost any other Uchiha I've fought." Itachi nodded briefly at the praise, and then winced at the pain that erupted once again in his bruised cheek.

Sasuke walked forwards slowly, feeling dread line the insides of his heart. This was not good. If she'd won, then everything was ruined. But … why did aniki look so calm? He tugged at Itachi's hand. "Nii-san, what happened?" he asked in a whisper.

Itachi merely smiled a disconcertingly secretive smile, like the ones they'd often shared when he'd been younger and had time to actually play with his brother. "Tsunade-sama conceded our match," he said. "I would have lost, but I managed to convince her to come back with us." His gaze lowered slightly, "I tell you all about it when we get back, Sasuke."

"There," Tsunade stepped back from him. "That was a deep bruise, but I'm not nearly as rusty as I thought. Jiraiya, why exactly are you here?"

But the Toad Sannin was still, with furrowed brows. He looked from her to Itachi in confusion, and raised a finger to point, "wait, this boy convinced you to come back? To become … hokage?"

Itachi nodded briefly, his hand still on Sasuke's shoulder.

"Woah," Jiraiya took a step back. "Kid, if I had your persuasive powers there wouldn't be a beautiful single girl in sight…"

"Oh shut it," his former teammate snapped. "So what about you, huh? You haven't answered my question."

He still seemed slightly dazed. "I … heard that there was an Uchiha out looking for the Legendary Sucker, and I thought to investigate. With the coup going on and you being the last Senju, I figured you might be in danger."

"Ridiculous," she scoffed. "Like I'd be in danger from a little anbu kid and his baby brother. But it looks like Konoha is in a pinch, and I couldn't ignore that." She turned to head back to the village, where her poor student was probably frenzied with worry.

Jiraiya frowned a frown that highlighted every line of his face, "that's … strange of you."

"Why would it be strange?" Tsunade threw him a strange look. "If being Hokage is what it takes, then so be it. I have to protect Konoha, after all."

Behind him, Sasuke felt Itachi's hand tighten on his shoulder. The temporary relief slowly seeped away and the dread came rushing back as he looked up into his brother's calm face.

That was not Tsunade's voice. With the way her Sannin teammate looked at her without too much shock, it might have been what she'd once been like. But it wasn't her. Something had changed.

Nii-san had spent four years in anbu. Their morals were questionable.

What had aniki done? What had he done to her?

The thoughts clouded his mind as he was steered out of the forest and back into Sugi under the noon sun, Itachi's hand never leaving his shoulder. The two Sannin walked in front of them. Jiraiya chatted happily about what had happened in Konoha since she'd left, and Tsunade pretended to ignore him while gruffly sneaking in the occasional question.

They lead Sasuke back to the inn before leaving for the market, presumably to track down Shizune, who no one had informed of anything. Tsunade maintained that her student was probably hysterical, and they needed to find her before she needed psychological treatment.

Itachi guided Sasuke to their room inside the inn. He drew the curtains shut and locked the door before settling down opposite from him at the small kotatsu.

"Expain." Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "What did you do, nii-san?"

"I'll show you," Itachi brought his hands up to make a single sign.

Within seconds, a flurry of black feathers had materialized in the room. Nii-san's genjutsu.

"Like the one you put on here to make sure I wouldn't leave," he observed dryly. Then he spotted the single black crow, the large bird that landed with a thud on his brother's arm. "What is that thing? Another genjutsu?"

Itachi shook his head, slowly holding out the arm that held the bird. His fingers gently gripped the feathery neck and turned it until it displayed its other eye. Sasuke leaned forward and looked into a strangely shaped Sharingan in its eye socket, and his own eyes spun red as he attempted to understand. "It's real, isn't it? That's a real eye. But the tomoe are distorted, so it's a Mangekyou eye. Why … is there a Mangekyou eye in a bird? Did our ancestors succumb to bestiality somewhere down the line?"

His brother smiled softly. "This is only the container. I needed something alive too keep it in, to provide it with blood." He looked up, "this eye was entrusted to me by a friend."

The room was dark with the drawn curtains and the red eye glimmered and looked frantically around the room, as if trying to escape its living cage. Sasuke's brows were furrowed as he regarded it. He tried to push down the dread, tell himself that nii-san hadn't had a choice, that it had been the only way. But the memory of a glowing smile was still ingrained in the front of his mind, along with the feeling of oka-san's whitening grip when she'd informed him his cousin was dead. "This … is Shisui-nii's eye?"

Itachi's glance was almost sheepish. "Was it that easy?"

"Well of course it was him, you didn't have any other friends, nii-san," Sasuke looked up dryly. "But … what does this do? Did you use a special Mangekyou ability to defeat her?"

He shook his head again, "no. I used this eye, Sasuke. It will not work for another ten years, but that is a fair price to pay."

"What did it do?"

"To the few who've lived to see it, it's known as the Koto-Amatsukami, a special ability that Shisui once had." His brother let go of the bird, and let it disappear back into the dimension of his mind. It vanished with a stroke of its black feathers and left them alone in the room. "Sasuke, did you … tell him anything? On that day?"

Sasuke nodded. "I warned him to be careful, nii-san."

Itachi's gaze was pained, "he knew, then. He probably figured it out the moment you told him. He … knew exactly where to stand. He even brought a scalpel he'd stolen hours earlier from the medics." A strained smile, "he was surprisingly intolerant of pain, for a shinobi."

The imagery was gruesome, and Sasuke swallowed heavily. Then he pointed to where the bird had been. "You still haven't told me what the eye does."

"It is the ultimate genjutsu. It has been imbued with the command 'protect Konoha'. Anyone on whom it is used will become the very embodiment of the Will of Fire, just as Shisui was." His voice was even but the hints of pain still managed to leak through. "I promised him that I would use it for the benefit of the village."

Sasuke clenched his fingers into the blankets of the small kotatsu between them.

So it wasn't by choice that Senju Tsunade would retake her village. The command was simple and it gave her much room for herself and her mind, but it was ultimately an illusion. When would it break? How much damage would it do when it did?

"I once thought of using it for you, Sasuke," his brother went on absently, "in case things worked too well and you embodied the hate I suspected you would too fully. I didn't want to hurt you, and this was the only alternative the situation allowed. It's painless and simple and it retains most of a person's nature. It would have only been a backup in the case that you didn't recover after my death."

The pangs of innocent betrayal stung, and the blankets of the kotatsu wrinkled further under his small hand. Sasuke swallowed heavily and was all too aware of his brother's slightly confused gaze.

But this was Itachi, who had spent half his life pleading with the village to spare the clan and pleading with the clan to spare the village, and he'd picked up on things that few others could see.

He thought it perfectly fine to do things like this, and the alternatives were usually so far worse that it was fine.

Itachi followed the anbu code. But he was powerful and also thirteen and the anbu code was nothing to be relied on. Sasuke had once considered the path for himself and he knew that unlike shinobi, anbu were allowed to cry.

It was difficult not to, when they were ordered to break every law they worked to uphold. The best shinobi led lives filled with glory. The best anbu were never spoken of other than with their codenames. So they were permitted the luxury of tears under their clay masks, if only to keep them sane. Sasuke realized with the strength in his clenched fingers that nii-san was always a step before everyone else, and maybe that wasn't always a good thing. He'd learned how to see things from a far greater height than anyone else. He'd learned how to sacrifice for his greater, selfless goals, and the latest thing he'd sent under for Konoha was Senju Tsunade's will.

And he'd once thought of using it on his own brother. Very anbu.

But nii-san's face changed when he spoke of Shisui. Something inside him that seemed long dead rose up again when he mentioned that name.

"Can … can something like this be undone? Broken?" Sasuke asked shakily.

Itachi looked away, "I don't know. Shisui disliked speaking of it. All I know is that it leaks into a person's mind and convinces them so utterly of the command that it becomes a part of their being. It is meant to be permanent, but you're sharp enough to detect the non sequitur in that line of reasoning."

He was. Nothing could be permanent in a way like that. What if there was something else – equally a part of the victim's being – that contradicted the essential command? If it was used to convince a killer that she was innocent, what would she think when she saw memories of her actions? What would she say if she discovered a pile of dead bodies in her closet the next day?

"I … I see," He finally spoke.

Itachi's look softened, "Sasuke, I may not know much of what's happened to you in the years in which you've become older than me, but I know that your nature is too resilient to fade easily. Trust me, otouto. I'll do everything possible to restore the village."

Sasuke nodded stiffly, neglecting to mention that was what he was worried about. He watched his brother stand up with his typically sleek anbu movements, reopening the curtains and unlocking the door.

One final question still lingered. "Nii-san, you and Shisui-"

"I'm going to go to find Tsunade-sama and Jiraiya-sama," Itachi interrupted, throwing him a backwards glance as he exited the room. "Stay here, Sasuke. I'll come back when they are ready to leave. If we travel quickly, we should be in Konoha by tomorrow."

"Hinata-sama, won't you please come eat lunch? Your food will grow cold." Hakumi-san stood in the doorway with Hanabi in her arms.

She shook her head vehemently and clenched her fingers further into the sheets of her futon. She couldn't go. If she went, she would end up in the prison cell.

But if she didn't go, that name would be carved into the cenotaph.

What was better? Was it ok to hide here and let Naruto-kun die and Hanabi-chan suffer? Would that be a fair trade for otou-san's happiness and the clan's victory? She didn't know. She was seven. The greatest decision she'd ever had to make in life was what color ceremonial kimono she wanted. This was too much.

Small hands were pulling at her arm. Hinata looked up to see the two-year-old Hanabi holding onto to her with her tiny fingers, standing confidently on both of her childish legs. Even at this age, she looked like oka-san. Why did she do that? What did she have to look like that?

"See, Hinata-sama?" Hakumi-san told her warmly. "Even Hanabi-sama wishes for you to come eat. Fugaku-sama has stated that you are not feeling well, and that you may remain in your room, but a growing child needs to eat and see sunlight."

Hanabi gurgled happily in agreement, busying her small hands by twining them into her sister's hair. Hinata stayed still, feeling the slight pressure against her head. "H-Hanabi-chan, go e-eat without me."

"Nee-san!" The little girl chirped. "Nee-san! Eat!"

She couldn't look into those eyes, knowing what she was going to do to them. How would Hanabi-chan feel with the Kyuubi sealed inside her? How would Naruto-kun feel while dead?

"She's learning many words," her caretaker said proudly. "And recently she's begun to run as well. She'll be a strong one day, just like her father."

Of course she would be strong. She would be a Jinchuuriki, after all.

"-And she's learning to write. Not very well, yet, but her hands are still so small."

She couldn't hear it anymore. Hinata stood up slowly, detaching herself from Hanabi's hands. She couldn't allow the unknown anbu to carve Naruto-kun's name into the memorial, and she couldn't allow them to turn her sister into an unstable Jinchuuriki. What was supposed to happen?

They were supposed to kidnap her. They would have held her prisoner to prevent the Hyuuga from joining the coup.

That was what she had changed. She had to find a way to change it back.

But for now, she would eat lunch with her baby sister. They would eat outside in the gardens where she could hear the calming tic of the bamboo suikenketsu.

"Hey, Ino-chan?" Naruto asked quietly. "That Uchiha lady hasn't returned. Do you think we'll see her again?"

Ino gathered her knees to his chest, feeling the coldness of the wall seep through her shirt and onto her back. "Why?"

"Well, she was a little nicer than the guards here, wasn't she? I mean, she actually brought us food on time, and stuff," he explained.

The window was allowing streaks of blinding sunlight in. Ino guessed that it was maybe five, or six. She settled for smoothing an all-knowing expression onto her seven-year-old face and huffing, "that's because the guards are police, and they're out fighting in the coup that's happening."

He looked up from where he'd been drawing patterns in the dust. "Fighting? So it's already started?"

Ino shrugged. "Probably. Our lunch came on time today, but breakfast didn't. That means that there was probably a skirmish last night, or this morning, and they had to spend all their attention on the injured."

Naruto grinned, "you're smart, Ino-chan."

She didn't know what to say to that, so she kept uncharacteristically quiet and focused her attention on the barred window, watching a lumbering cloud pass over the sun. It had been an indeterminable number of hours that they'd spent in the holding cell, and an unknown amount of time before that when the Uchiha kunoichi had kept them in her house. Sometimes, the guards would bring down another prisoners, but they rarely got to see their faces.

The other prisoners were all larger, though. Older. Probably chunin-level shinobi, or a few jonin. They were the only children being held. She looked thoughtfully at the yellow-haired boy sitting beside her with nails caked in dust. But it was hopeless. Even if he had that much power, there was no way he'd be able to control it. They just had to wait for her otou-san to find them.

"Hey, Ino-chan?"

"What?" Ino asked tiredly. She couldn't bring herself to get angry with Naruto anymore, not after discovering the truth.

Naruto looked at her with new hope. The general acidity of her tone had been slowly decreasing until she spoke to him almost like Sasuke did, like normal people spoke to each other. "Could we maybe be friends after this is over? You and me and Sasuke and Sakura-chan?"

"Yeah. Sure," she replied jerkily. "Sure."

His bother returned with the two Sannin to the inn a few hours later, dragging a tired Shizune in tow. Sasuke stood quickly, packed up the modest bag of supplies that Fukurou had given them, and followed them out of the village. At the almost late hour, the civilians gave them curious looks as they strolled down the streets.

It was rare to see two of the Legendary Sannin walking side by side.

As they walked Sasuke found himself wondering where Orochimaru would be, if he were there. He wouldn't walk between them, of course. His mentor had a strange aversion to other people in general, unless they had something he wanted, in which case his entire outlook was topped on its head. No, Orochimaru would walk off to the side, gritting his teeth and enduring Jiraiya's incessant chatter and Tsunade's loud footsteps. But would he stand next to the teammate who cleverly found him out, or the one that had stupidly and stubbornly clung to him for years?

"You have an interesting look on your face, Sasuke," Itachi said mildly. The afternoon light detailed every line of his face but they weren't as deep anymore. He'd probably slept well for the first time in months.

"I was just thinking," he replied under his breath. "My two idiot teammates were kind of like them. Like those two."

"Who were they?"

"Naruto, and Haruno Sakura."

"Sakura? Who is she?" Itachi turned and raised an eyebrow. "I have not seen her family name anywhere in the records."

Sasuke shrugged, "a civilian girl. She made it through the academy with her cleverness, and passed the genin exams because of my brief moment of stupidity."

His brother smiled. "That's an interesting thing to say. One day, you'll have to tell me more about your future, Sasuke." I want to understand. The words went unsaid, the civilians continued to glance across at them with curious eyes.

Shizune was behind both of them, carrying Tsunade's travel bag in one hand and Tonton in the other, and making a valiant effort to keep up. She fell into step beside them.

"Itachi-kun, did you really convince Tsunade-sama?" She asked.

Itachi nodded briefly.

"How?" She shifted the pig in her arms. "I mean, I've been trying to do that for over ten years. She's resisted returning for almost thirty years."

"Yes, but it's evident that she still likes her village."

Shizune sighed. "She does! But she likes it where it is, she's never wanted to go back there," she paused. "What exactly did you say to her?"

"I merely explained the situation. Are you aware of it, Shizune-san?"

She nodded vigorously, "I keep up with as much as I can. I know there's a coup, and now Jiraiya-sama has said the Hokage is missing." She paused. "What are they going to do about that, Itachi-kun?"

So she didn't know yet.

"Tsunade is going to become our Hokage," Sasuke blurted out to her. He watched as she paused in her step and almost dropped her pet pig.

"What?" Shizune gaped at the two Sannin who walked ahead of them, and they both turned back to stare at her questioningly. "Tsunade-sama, you agreed to become the Hokage?"

"Yes," Tsunade replied gruffly. "What's wrong with that? It'll be nice to fight for Konoha again, just like I did back in the old days." Her arms were crossed over her green haori.

"But …" Shizune faltered. She cast a glance around at the civilians staring, and lowered her voice. "But Tsunade-sama, what about your … problem?"

"Problem? What problem?" Tsunade blinked, "stop being such a worrier and carry that properly so nothing falls out. Wait, did we leave the other bag in the inn? And I don't even have a lot of stuff, since you insist on 'light-travel'. Bah, never mind, forget it, I blew all the valuables when we got here anyway."

Jiraiya listened quietly. From the corner of his mind, a rising voice muttered its silent warnings.

The attack of the spacing error glitches is back. If there are spacing errors here, they weren't on my Word document, I swear.

To answer a reviewer's question, yes, this is all planned out. The little things write themselves as I go on (that's the fun of it!) but the main, overhanging plot is already decided.

As most of you have guessed, in her vision Hinata saw that Naruto was dead (the Uchiha's final, winning attempt on Danzo), and Hanabi was made into the Kyuubi's jinchuuriki. Itachi's actions caused Konoha's win, so I figured that his inaction would cause the Uchiha's win (and the Hyuuga's, since they've agreed to help).

IMPORTANT note: In the Itachi/Tsunade battle, Itachi was bruised but not bleeding. Re-read, if you like, because some of you read the first version, which had that mistake.

So ... um ... uni app time is almost over, but I managed to finish this one. The next update will probably take at least a week. However, I will probably keep writing other things (oneshots) because this is my procrastination and those are my stress-relief. But I like to think I produce interesting stuff under stress (apart from tears), so try some of my other works. I don't recommend following me, though, I'll just crowd your inbox with my fic post alerts :P. And take the poll on my profile, because I'm curious.