It’s Just That Any One of Us Is Half Without Another One Is You – Chapter Eleven

Sasuke faces his brother again. Fortunately, Sakura and Naruto are there for him, and he finds the space in his head to do what he has to do. Involves character death. Drama, Action, Angst, I-5

Naruto and Kankurou’s voices still rang off the walls when Gaara hit the floor with a dull, boneless thump.

“Well,” murmured the blond Akatsuki, looking toward the broken temple door, “that was faster than we expected, hm?” He smiled very unpleasantly. “Just not fast enough.” As two of the four dark robes remaining faded back into the shadows, he strolled toward them, stepping over Gaara’s body and carelessly kicking it in passing.

Sasuke wasn’t surprised when Naruto snarled with absolute rage and charged the man, red flickering around him.

“Naruto,” Sakura shouted, sharp, “it’s you he wants, don’t be an idiot!”

Sasuke’s vision tracked the man’s hand as it dove into his pouch and a pale, grayish white bird bloomed up from it, growing large enough for the man to spring onto and ride. Not an elemental transformation but what might well be unlimited shaping of his medium, trained observation noted coolly; that was dangerous.

Sasuke snapped his hands together, fast and sure with the knife-edge perception of the Sharingan, and blew fire at the bird while the Sand team showered kunai, needles, and a loop of razor wire on the other remaining Akatsuki. At the edge of his field of vision, he saw that attack blocked with what looked like a jointed tail. The bird he was aiming for swooped up over his flame, and he took in the flicker of alarm over the blond one’s face. “That stuff burns badly,” he reported, flat and fast. “This is the explosives expert.”

“This one is Sasori,” Chiyo grated. “Leave him to us.”

Gai flickered through the temple’s shadows, coming up to flank the one on the bird. “The other two are gone. Let’s take this one down with the passion of youth!”

The blond just laughed. “But that wouldn’t be what I want.” He swooped down again, fast and hard, and the bird-thing scooped up Gaara’s body.

“Gaara!” Naruto leapt for him, fingers clawed. Kankurou whipped around and was nearly cut down by Sasori’s tail before Fuunotora tackled him to the ground.

“You want a dead body that much, hm?” the blond taunted, and flitted right out the door. Naruto bounded after him, chakra boiling off him, and for the first time he could remember Sasuke heard Kakashi swear. Sasuke couldn’t blame him at all and held on to the still, sharp judgment of the Sharingan by his bare fingertips while fear for his idiot teammate wrenched at his control.

At least Itachi didn’t seem to be here.

“Chiyo-san, we’ll handle this,” Kakashi snapped.

“And we’ll handle this one,” Chiyo said grimly. “Go!”

As they bolted out the door again after Naruto, Kakashi called, “Remember the illusions in the swamp! And remember that the other two might not have actually left!”

Fear and fury jerked at Sasuke’s control again, at the reminder. He forced them down, teeth gritted.

Naruto was leaping through the trees already, chakra shredding the traps in his way as he followed the bird and they followed him. The next grove wasn’t lit from the right angle, though, and Sasuke barked, “Illusion!”

He exhaled with relief when Naruto landed short of it; Naruto was listening after all.

“Pit trap,” Neji reported, staring deep into it. “Jump ten meters.”

“Wait.” Sasuke perched on his branch and looked past the illusionary clump of trees. “There’s something past it…” Just a flicker of light in the wrong place, but… and then he hissed through his teeth. Naruto had already jumped. Idiot!

“Tenten,” Gai called, “saturate the other side!”

“On it!” Tenten leaped straight up, above them all, and unfurled a long scroll. Weapons rained down on the place where Naruto would land in just another second.

Nothing else happened. Had he been wrong? Naruto had landed and leaped again, and Sasuke prepared to follow, worry over his teammate’s loss of control clawing at him even as he kept his eyes focused, searching the other side for that hint of something askew. He was in midair when one particular patch of reeds caught his attention. What was it? What was wrong, what was he seeing? He looked closer.

“Sasuke!” Sakura hit him from the side, taking them both down in a tangle of limbs and very hard ground for someplace so wet. “What?” he gasped, winded, trying to spot that place he’d found again.

“Don’t look,” she commanded, catching his face in her hands and holding his eyes, hers wide and alarmed. “Look at me, not at that! It’s not real, whatever you see is an illusion, that’s Itachi standing there!”

For a moment the shock was so great he couldn’t make sense of her words. And then he understood and squeezed his eyes shut, slamming his hands together in the release. “Kai!” he barked, as much at himself as at the illusion, turning his focus inward.

There. He had been influenced, yes. He flared his chakra hard and sharp, throwing off the pressure, and opened his eyes again. The Leaf teams had landed around him, and Itachi was standing where he’d seen a suspicious patch of reeds—suspicion that had made him focus on them. “Very clever,” he grated, glaring at his brother’s chest.

“Gai,” Kakashi said softly, beside him, “can you deal with this one again?”

“Yes,” Gai answered, serious for once. His eyes were focused on Itachi’s feet. A detached part of Sasuke’s mind was impressed. That was a difficult approach. The clan had always trained to watch the chest, which telegraphed more clearly, even if it was a little more dangerous, a little easier to catch the opponent’s eyes that way. And Gai wasn’t clan; he must have figured it out on his own.

“I’ll go after Naruto, then. Be careful!” Kakashi vanished down the path of crushed grasses and shredded traps, after Naruto. Good. That was good, that someone would be there to look after Naruto.

Sakura gripped his shoulder hard. “Are you all right?” she asked, low. Sasuke took a slow breath and yanked his thoughts back into order. Naruto was going after Gaara’s body, and Kakashi would take care of him. The Sand teams probably had Sasori in hand. He was here, with Sakura and Gai’s team, and Itachi was in front of them. He had backup, today, to go with opportunity, and his brother was standing in front of him. Now. The time to take Itachi down was now. That was all he needed to think about.

“I’m all right,” he said, settling his shoulders under her hand and focusing again.

Neji’s head snapped around. “Someone’s coming! Someone with a huge amount of chakra!”

“Can Akatsuki have one of their own hosts with them already?” Sakura suggested tightly.

“Not that, but… close. Closer to a host’s chakra than I’ve ever seen.” Neji turned smoothly, falling into one of his clan’s defensive stances.

“Looks like you got more than just your brother,” a rough voice said from the shadows of the red reeds, and another black cloak materialized out of them. “Want me to take the extra off your hands, Itachi-san?” The newcomer bared sharklike teeth that reminded Sasuke with a sharp twinge of their very first mission as a team, and the Swordsman they’d faced.

“Swordsman of the Mist,” Sakura confirmed softly. “With that shape sword… Hoshigake Kisame. The strongest of his generation.”

“That would be very kind of you,” Itachi murmured, and Sasuke couldn’t help flinching at the sound of his voice.

“Gai-sensei,” Neji said, quiet and grim, “I don’t think any of us but you will be able to deal with Hoshigake. And maybe not even you alone. Take Tenten and Lee. I will stand with Uchiha Sasuke until you return, as a jounin of the Leaf and as a Hyuuga.”

It was a long moment before Gai rumbled, “Very well.”

“We’ll concentrate on wearing Itachi down, then,” Sakura whispered, not moving her lips, and Sasuke felt himself relax just a little. Sakura was their strategist, the one who thought ahead; he had her help this time. And he was the striking hand of their team, after all. All he had to do was listen to her, and focus, and he would have his chance for revenge.

“All right,” he agreed. “Call it.”

In the moment Hoshigake’s hand went up to the hilt of his massive sword, arm blocking a little of his vision, she snapped, “Scatter!” The six of them spun away, into the trees, into the reeds, into the water.

“Hmm. Well, then, perhaps we may move our discussion to a calmer and drier place,” Itachi said to the air, quite serenely, and took to the trees with a bound that barely stirred his robe.

“Track,” Sakura’s voice directed from the tree line. Sasuke nodded to himself and made for Itachi’s right, as Sakura would be making for his left, trusting Neji’s Byakugan to see them and show him his spot in the middle of the V. Naruto’s regular spot.

An explosion echoed over the swamp from the direction Naruto had gone, and Sasuke jerked, wavering on his landing for a breath. Naruto would be all right, he told himself fiercely. And Sasuke would keep Itachi away from his teammate. Far away. Itachi wouldn’t take anyone away from him again.

Itachi led them out of the swamp and into merely damp forest, alighting in a clearing, quite calmly out in the open. They bracketed him, and Sasuke pushed down a rush of tension, waiting for Sakura’s call. It was Neji stepped out of the trees first, though.

“Hyuuga,” Itachi murmured, tilting his head. “Neji-kun, if I recall correctly?” His eyes changed and Sakura’s voice whipped across the clearing.

“Illusion, Neji, look out!”

Neji stiffened for a long moment, and Sasuke saw Itachi’s mouth start to curve. It stopped when Neji shouted and his chakra flared for one instant into visibility, hard and edged. “The Uchiha descend from the Hyuuga,” Neji said, voice rough now. “We have known them from the beginning. Did you think we kept no techniques against the thing that some of you became?”

“Ah. The honor of the Hyuuga. And where is your honor now, when you stand against the inheritor of Uchiha? Is your clan not allied to mine?” Itachi inquired.

Sakura landed beside Sasuke, pulling his attention off the conversation, off his brother, off his own rising horror and fury. Once again, Sasuke found himself grateful for Kakashi’s wisdom; an anchor against the storm in his heart might be his strongest weapon right now.

Neji’s voice dripped with well-bred scorn. “The inheritor? You?” He snorted. “You are a renegade and traitor. None of our obligations are to you any more. They are owed now to Sasuke alone.”

“Ah?” Itachi raised his brows just a shade. “Am I misinformed, then? I had thought the Third and his filthy Elders too fearful of the Uchiha’s influence to allow Sasuke to take his place properly as the head of the clan. Without a clan head, without that authority to declare, I cannot be a traitor.”

Sasuke jerked behind his screen of tall grass, and felt Sakura’s hand close on his shoulder, tight and steadying. It was true; he had never been recognized as the head of Uchiha and… he should have been. When he graduated and had formal rank as a shinobi, if no sooner. He’d always been open about his intent to refound the clan. Why…? Sudden uncertainty shook him half out of the concentration of the Sharingan.

Neji was quiet for a moment before he shrugged. “Well, we’re a little short of the formal witnesses, but such things have long been acceptable on the battlefield.” He raised his voice. “Sasuke? In the name of the noble clans of Hidden Leaf, I ask: do you accept responsibility for the clan of Uchiha?”

The question shivered down Sasuke’s nerves. The responsibility of the clan head. For all of Uchiha, and that meant for Itachi, too. For the dead and for the insane blood of that night. For all their past. For the whole weight of the clan. It crushed down on him like a boulder, and for a moment he couldn’t breathe.

…don’t have to prove every bit of their honor all by yourself…

It was Jiraiya’s words, echoing in his head, that broke the weight, sudden as a lamp turning on to light a dark room. The past… the past took care of itself. His teacher had said so, said that the Uchiha ancestors carried the weight of the clan’s honor for him—carried it well. He screwed his eyes shut for a breath and told over the generations in his mind, and remembered, as he did, that even the banishment of a clan head had not killed the Uchiha honor. Quite the reverse.

And now, it must be done again. Not that much of a problem, surely, if it had been done once already. His clan didn’t weigh him down; they stood behind him. The understanding made his shoulders lighter and he straightened them.

He took a deep breath and called out, “I accept responsibility for my clan.”

Neji smiled, and even from this angle, Sasuke could see it was thin and hard. “I serve the heir of Hyuuga directly, and I speak with her voice. The Hyuuga acknowledge Uchiha Sasuke as the new clan head of Uchiha.” That stated, he fell silent, waiting. Waiting for what had, inevitably, to come next.

Sasuke bit his lip hard, felt Sakura behind him, both hands on his shoulders. Heard another explosion, more massive than the last, off in Naruto’s direction and nearly broke up laughing. That was exactly the way his idiot teammate would express his support.

Anchors.

Sasuke took another breath and spoke clearly. “Uchiha Itachi, I declare you traitor to our clan, and outcast.”

“Large words, from the boy who’s still too weak to face me himself,” Itachi murmured.

That really did make Sasuke laugh, and the faint stir of Itachi’s robes as he shifted at the sound made Sasuke smile, teeth bared. “You won’t catch me that way. Not again. If others help me find my strength, it’s still my own strength.” That, he was sure of in his heart.

Itachi sighed faintly. “I was afraid this might happen, when you were assigned to Kakashi-senpai. Ah, well. Not all traps close firmly.”

The glorious irony of hearing Itachi say that at the very moment Sakura’s hands were flashing through seal on seal, almost made Sasuke laugh again as the ground opened just under Itachi’s feet. Fuunotora must have taught Sakura that technique at some point, he thought, light-headed.

Itachi flickered aside from the earth traps, and that was Neji’s cue to strike. Really, Sasuke thought, wasn’t it about time he pitched in? He didn’t have to do it all himself, no, but surely it wasn’t fair to make everyone else do all the work either.

That sounded alarmingly like Jiraiya, in his head, but at the moment he didn’t care. He was still on the edge of dizzy laughter as he threw the wired kunai for his Lightning Dragon into Itachi’s path. He and Sakura had to spring apart after he triggered it; that one showed his location clearly. But that was all right. He could feel it again, now, the anchoring solidity of his team beside him, behind him. His mind was moving again, reading Sakura’s intent in the pattern of footing traps she set under Itachi, one after another. Sasuke’s part was to harry Itachi from above, to sting him with distance attacks so that Neji had a chance to close and whittle away his chakra.

It wasn’t going to be easy.

Itachi was fast, and half the time his kunai picked Sasuke’s out of the air, and though fire techniques left the trees and ground smoldering Sasuke hadn’t singed him yet. Neji had only gotten in two solid strikes, and those weren’t to vital points. If Itachi’s chakra was getting deranged, it wasn’t obvious yet.

It was Itachi’s focus that was the problem. Sasuke watched, eyes sharp again, observing the way Itachi avoided their attacks, the smoothness of his movements. They needed another distraction. And even though the idea made his stomach clench, Sasuke thought he knew what would work.

“Why?” he called out, throwing his voice a little along the edge of the clearing. “Why did you kill our clan?”

“It’s our way, little brother.” The bastard barely even sounded out of breath. “Surely you’ve read our history by now. Friend to kill friend for power.”

“That’s a forbidden technique!” Sasuke yelled and hurled another shuriken viciously. “It isn’t our way!” No matter how many had tried, down the years. Dozens of people, attempting to gain power and make someone else pay the price. But it was listed as forbidden in the clan’s own records!

“On the contrary.” Itachi slipped aside from Sakura’s wire trap and flickered out of her earth jutsu trap again. “It’s the way of all shinobi. The villages fight each other, regardless of the damage to their own countries or to others. The villages fight themselves, and factions twist their own people in the name of victory or of rightness.” He turned, eyes catching Sasuke in the trees and following him, though Sasuke avoided meeting them. “Don’t you think it’s interesting that both sides always proclaim themselves right, justified over and above their opponents to take whatever action they must, and so take exactly the same actions? This corruption is the one thing we all share, no matter what badge we wear.” He turned a shade too far and Neji lunged, palm striking Itachi’s side, not solid enough to finish him but enough to make him grunt and spin away with less grace than usual, robe flapping.

It was working, Sasuke told himself coldly. Keep going.

“So you thought you’d be a better monster than anyone else, is that it?” he called, and ducked under the illusion screen Sakura had woven into the grasses.

“Oh, no,” Itachi answered, eerily calm as he met a flurry of Neji’s hand strikes, losing Sasuke’s track again. “I intend to destroy the entire thing: Hidden Leaf and all the other villages. Consider. The Uchiha were the police force of Konoha, and its first line of military defense at home. If they were destroyed, the village would be vulnerable.” He whirled to meet Sasuke’s Fire Blossom with his own, completing the spin to fend off Neji again. “Sooner or later, another village would attack it, but the Leaf wouldn’t die easily. So even in victory, the other village would be wounded and easy prey in their turn. The Leaf would have died and the Sand been next, three and some years ago, if it hadn’t been for the Nine-tails’ young Sacrifice. If that interference is removed, all will go well.”

Sasuke slid down to his knees in the grass, control shaken by sickness. Sakura landed beside him, eyes wide and horrified, hands clenched against her chest. Even Neji fell back, staring at Itachi. “You’re mad,” he said, husky.

“Your clan is, itself, an example of what shinobi do,” Itachi noted. “Though not the worst, by any means. Ask the Elder, Shimura Danzou, what ‘Root’ is, when you return. If, of course, you return.” He smiled faintly. “You have dropped your guard, Hyuuga Neji-kun.”

His eyes changed again and Sasuke swore, groping for another shuriken, or another coil of wire as Neji went stiff again for a breath. Then another.

“That won’t be enough to break his hold,” Sakura muttered, and her hands flashed through the activation of her seal. The Sharingan saw it flare to life, all the wild colors of nature energy, and Sakura was gone, heel blasting into Itachi’s back.

Neji fell to hands and knees as Itachi rolled to his feet again, and Sasuke dashed out to drag him clear, checking him over with the first aid Naruto had made both he and Sakura learn. Pulse was ragged, muscles spasming, and Neji’s eyes couldn’t quite focus. “Tsukuyomi,” Sasuke gritted out, like it was a curse.

“Half,” Neji gasped. “Be all right. Help Sakura.”

Sasuke nodded tightly and left him in the shelter of the trees, circling back around Sakura’s lightning-fast fight with Itachi. Her hands blurred, even to the Sharingan’s vision, as she slammed up stone walls and slammed down the brutal weight of water. She was, he thought, faster even than Itachi. But he was only using his chakra to defend against the jutsu, lunging again and again to close with her hand to hand. Even the power of the seal couldn’t give Sakura the kind of experience Itachi had at that. Again and again, he performed a block or disengage she didn’t know, made her spend her chakra to counter physical attacks with an elemental technique. Sasuke flung scavenged kunai to break Itachi’s form in the air, sent fire at his legs to break it on the ground, but the clock in his head was ticking inexorably down and Itachi was still going.

And then, finally, one attack got through, straight and true. Sakura’s heel smashed into Itachi’s ribs, and Sasuke could see it as they gave way.

And they were out of time.

Sakura’s face was twisted with frustration as she broke off and swapped herself into the trees, hands weaving the deactivation as she fell to her knees beside Neji. “Okay?” she panted.

“Caught me with some of that demon illusion of his,” Neji rasped. “Not the whole thing. With his ribs gone, I might be able to fight him again.”

“We’ll try to buy more time, then,” Sakura said, mouth in a grim line. “I have a little energy; I can’t use the seal again, but I can keep away from him I think. And the others should be coming soon. I hope.”

“My turn to take point, then,” Sasuke said, low, and Sakura squeezed his shoulder.

“Be careful,” she ordered, and he smiled.

“As much as I can.” The smile crept wider at the disgruntled face she made at that, and he slipped through the trees to emerge from them a third of the way around the clearing.

On the principle of further distraction, he asked, as he stepped out, “Why did you leave me alive?”

Itachi raised his brows, though Sasuke could only see the edge of that with his gaze fixed on Itachi’s chest. “To take your eyes, of course,” he said with an edge of patience, as though it should be obvious. “Once you’ve achieved the Mangekyou Sharingan, I will take your eyes and my own sight will be preserved from deterioration. I believe it’s actually an effect of incompatibility,” he went on as Sasuke froze in horror. “It must be a sibling’s eyes, to make them compatible enough to use techniques at full strength. But the fact that they are not one’s own provides just enough dampening of the chakra resonance to prevent a recurrence of blindness.”

“I will never kill the friends closest to me,” Sasuke whispered, barely remembering to keep his eyes on Itachi’s chest.

Itachi actually sighed. “I had gathered that. It’s unfortunate, especially after all my encouragement the last time we met. But luckily I believe there is another way.” He smiled just a little. “A way to produce just that depth of grief and guilt that will awaken this potential in our blood. We shall see.” And he sprang up, cloak whirling out as he sent a rain of shuriken spinning down toward Sasuke.

Sasuke, who could taste his own rising rage like blood in his mouth. His hands slammed into the only seal he needed these days for the Great Fireball, and he sent it howling up, blasting the shuriken aside, engulfing Itachi and rising out of the trees to burst in the sky. Itachi was smoking as he landed, but that faint smile was still here.

“Yes. I think perhaps it will work.”

Sasuke bared his teeth.

Fire raged and flared against fire as they fought across the clearing, and the clearing was a good deal wider the next time they both paused, red eyes fixed across the bare-burned ground.

It was then, of course, that Naruto pelted into the space, right between them, eyes wild and teeth bared.

“Ah,” Itachi murmured. “Good. I did think this one would be a surer bet than the girl.”

Naruto was turning toward the voice, and Sasuke was already airborne as he yelled, “Don’t look in his eyes, you idiot!” He landed nearly on Naruto’s head and, as they both went sprawling, hauled him close and tumbled them both unceremoniously back toward the tree line.

“I’m watching, take a minute,” Sakura rapped out as she landed beside them, eyes steady on the clearing. “Naruto, are you all right? Any injuries?”

“I’m fine,” Naruto growled, struggling back up. “That blond Akatsuki is dead. We got… the body back.”

Sakura pulled in a hard breath, jaw setting. “We’ll see if there’s anything we can do once Itachi is put away. Listen. I think he’s going to try to kill one of us first, not Sasuke.”

“Yeah, well good luck to him on that,” Naruto spat, and suddenly the clearing was filled and overflowing with Shadow Clones, all of them with Naruto’s feral, slitted eyes.

“Naruto!” Sasuke snapped, shaking his shoulder. This wasn’t good. Itachi was a strategist like Sakura, no matter how insane he ultimately was. If Naruto stopped thinking and also stopped listening…

“They’re not getting any more of you!” Naruto yelled, and the clones rushed forward like an avalanche falling on Itachi.

For a moment, Sasuke thought it might actually work. Naruto had gotten better at controlling the clones, and right now he had the focus of a predator. Itachi went down in a welter of claws like steel and the storm of Naruto’s rage. Sasuke took a breath, starting to think…

The clearing erupted in black flame.

Sasuke shouted and wove his hands together with frantic speed, backburning around where Naruto was, in the middle of the clones, of course, the idiot

His flames were smothered by the black ones. As if the flames themselves were being consumed. The ground blasted up around Naruto’s feet to form a break, a shield, and he saw Sakura, beside him, on her knees and shaking with the drain on her chakra.

The black flames ate the earth itself and closed in. Sasuke’s throat was torn with a shout that matched Sakura’s, and he lunged one useless bound forward.

The flames died. In their wake was Itachi, standing beside a scorched and dazed Naruto. “Amaterasu, the fires of the underworld,” he explained, quite calmly. “The final technique of our clan. Of fire itself. It will consume anything.” He smiled into Sasuke’s eyes, and when had Sasuke looked up? “And now your friend will die. Because of you. Only because of you, and for the sake of your power. Know this.”

The words clawed at Sasuke’s mind as Itachi reached under his robe and drew a sword. His fault. His doing, that his friend would die. The accusation, the knowledge, the approaching fate twisted deep into his thoughts. His friend, his teammate, the one who was always with him, thoughtlessly giving and guarding and arguing and name-calling.

You’re ours. That’s all.

He was theirs, and they were his, and even refusing to say the words hadn’t kept this fate from coming for them. Itachi would kill his family again.

His new family. His only family. His anchor in the middle of the rage rising through him now.

No. No.

“NO!” Sasuke screamed, ripping himself free of the illusion twining around his mind. The sword was coming down. Naruto was only stirring, groggily, still stunned by the return of all those burned clones. Sakura’s hands were coming together in the second hand seal of her activation, tears starting down her cheeks. She would kill herself and it still wouldn’t be fast enough. There was no time; it was impossible.

He didn’t give a damn.

Sasuke snatched up chakra from the bottom of his bones, from the corners of his soul. There was nothing to send it through, nothing to channel it, and he didn’t care. His family would not die. Not again. He threw his hands forward, locking them at the last moment into the Bird, and screamed again as lightning blasted out. It lashed out, directed somehow and he didn’t know how, but unchanneled, unshaped, grounding into the trees, nearly hitting Neji as he interrupted his lunge for Itachi to fling himself flat.

And it struck Itachi.

It threw him back from Naruto, twitching and gasping, and he lay still where he landed. Sasuke stood, panting for breath, shaking with the raw force he’d blasted out, and it was long seconds before he managed to stagger to Naruto’s side. Naruto was hauling himself back to his feet, looking around dazed and shocked but with his hands still clenched. His lip curled back when he spotted Itachi, and he took a step in that direction.

Sasuke whacked him across the back of the head. “Moron!”

“Ow, hey!” Naruto covered his head with his hands and glared at Sasuke. “What the hell, jerk?! I’m trying to protect you, here!”

“Fine job you did of it!” Sasuke snapped back. “Nearly got your idiot self killed, and the demon hells only know how I got that last lightning strike to work trying to save your sorry ass!”

“Who asked you to?” Naruto demanded, now nose to nose with him.

“Who the hell had to ask?!” Sasuke yelled. “You don’t ask your team for that!”

“I think,” Neji interrupted them rather dryly, dirt streaked as he crawled back to his feet, “you might want to stop before you make Sakura any worse.”

“Huh?” Naruto looked around, eyes wide and alarmed.

Now they weren’t yelling, it was easy to hear Sakura again. She was on the ground with her face buried in her hands, laughing so hard she could barely breathe.

Okay, maybe Neji had a point. Sasuke straightened up and cleared his throat, self-conscious.

“Well,” a cracked voice rasped behind them. “Perhaps you should take my eyes, instead, then.”

Sasuke and Naruto stumbled as they swung back around, and Sakura gasped, flowing up to her feet again.

“What would I want them for?” Sasuke demanded, the first thing that came to mind as he flinched at the sight of his brother and tried to close his heart to the burns over Itachi’s exposed skin.

Itachi actually smiled. “You may want them to face our twice-great-grandfather.”

The world froze around him and Sasuke couldn’t hear anything but the rush of his own blood in his ears. His own blood. Twice-great…. “Uchiha Madara is dead,” he whispered. “He died after his battle with the First.”

“He stays out of sight, usually. But it’s his hand that guides Akatsuki.” Itachi’s eyes were black, Sasuke observed, distracted. This couldn’t be a hallucination. “I suppose he will accomplish my goal, in the end.” Itachi looked up at the sky and sighed. “He thinks the villages will submit to him. But it will simply be war. The greatest war. That will do, I suppose.” He smiled up at nothing. “So?”

Sasuke walked slowly to stand over Itachi, looking down at him, at that calm, mad smile that was waiting for his answer. “The Uchiha,” he started and choked on the name. Madara. A head of the clan, before he was banished. What was the Uchiha clan, after all?

You’re the last Uchiha, I don’t see why you can’t do whatever you please and call that what Uchihas do.

Sasuke actually huffed out half a laugh as Jiraiya’s voice came back to him. Old pervert thought he had an answer for everything. He looked down at Itachi, who now had his brows raised a little in his burned face.

“No.”

He called Chidori into his hand, tiny but focused, and slammed it down into Itachi’s chest, over his heart. One spine-cracking spasm and it was over.

Over. His revenge was accomplished. He felt no satisfaction, and wondered for a dizzy breath if he was disrespecting the memory of his clan. Or perhaps he was just too tired. He was very tired. But then he caught Neji’s eye, across the clearing, and the fog in his head parted a little. Something needed to be said, after all.

He straightened his shoulders and said, firmly. “The Uchiha do not use forbidden techniques. We uphold the laws of Konoha. At need, we execute them as well.”

Neji nodded back to him, soberly, accepting his judgment for the village’s noble clans.

Not revenge. Protection. To protect his people, whatever the cost. That was the duty of the Uchiha.

And the Uchiha were not dead. Sasuke managed a full breath.

Naruto laid a hand on his shoulder. “Hey. It’s over. Okay?”

The Uchiha weren’t dead, but his brother was—the last of his family. A shudder ripped through Sasuke and he reached out blindly, more grateful than he’d ever been before for Naruto’s complete lack of decorum, the immediacy with which arms went around him and pulled him tight against his teammate. Sakura’s hands spread against his back, rubbing slowly up and down in the rhythm Naruto had taught them to counter shock. “This part is over,” she said softly. “Now you can come home. It’s all right, Sasuke. We’ll take you home safe.”

She had gone away, too, and come home again. She understood. And Naruto wouldn’t leave him. His team would bring him home.

Home to them. His family.

Another deep breath and the choking in his throat eased, the band around his chest loosened a little. “I’m okay,” he whispered against Naruto’s shoulder, husky. “Okay for now.”

Naruto was looking suspicious and overprotective as Sasuke straightened up, but Sakura squeezed his shoulders one last time and let him go. Neji was tying the last knots of rope around Itachi’s body, preparing it for carrying. “Ready?” he asked, tactfully looking down at the rope.

“Yeah,” Sakura said for all of them. “Let’s go.”

A/N: Kishimoto’s retconning of the Uchiha history in general was almost as hideously clunky as his retconning of Itachi in particular. There are too many conflicts with prior canon, and the result is too boring. So in this story the Sage of Six Paths, and the eternal enmity of the Senju and Uchiha, and the corollary that the Uchiha are Doomed to Do It Wrong… yeah, none of that happened. The Rinnengan is its own thing, because for pity’s sake not every eye-technique needs to be related. The elders, and Danzou in particular, did indeed fear the clan’s power, but there were no clan-wide plans for rebellion, Itachi was not assigned to kill the clan as some kind of sick attempt at “peace”, none of that happened. Itachi is insane, period. The vast majority of the Uchiha were entirely honorable, if also rather messed up, as the noble shinobi clans do tend to be. And the whole go-round with Tobi did nothing but annoy me, and feels way too much like Kishimoto wondering what the heck to do next, so I’m ignoring all that. Akatsuki knows who Madara is, and there are no minions.