Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters.
Warnings: AU, character death, manga spoilers in later chapters
Notes: This fic was inspired by a prompt on the naruto_meme LJ community: "Remember how Sarutobi promised that Sasuke would be unharmed, and Itachi's visit to Konoha was supposed to remind Danzou that the promise still stood even with Sarutobi's death? What if Danzou didn't take the hint? What if Sasuke was murdered as he lay in that hospital room? How would the Rookies react, first to Sasuke's death, and then to slowly realizing it was murder? What about Itachi?"
"Sakura-chan! Hey, Sakura-chan, open up!" Naruto continued pounding on the door until Sakura opened it. He saw immediately that her eyes were red and puffy, her hair was disheveled, and she was wearing pajamas even though it was three in the afternoon. "Whoa, Sakura-chan, what's wrong?"
Naruto hastened to tell his friend the good news. "Don't you worry about him, Sakura-chan! Ero-sennin and I were able to find the Legendary Tsunade, and she agreed to come back here with us! Sasuke and Kakashi-sensei'll be back on their feet in no time!"
For some reason, it didn't seem to help: tears started to gather in the corners of Sakura's eyes. "Naruto...Sasuke-kun...he...he didn't..." Her voice broke, and she started to sob.
"He didn't what?" There was a sinking feeling in Naruto's stomach, but he refused to acknowledge what he was starting to suspect.
"I'm sorry, Naruto." Jiraiya was suddenly standing next to Naruto, one hand on his shoulder. "I just got back from dropping Tsunade off at the hospital. What Sakura-chan's trying to say is that Sasuke-kun didn't make it."
Itachi and Kisame were in one of Amegakure's many weapons shops when the jounin came to find them. "Excuse me, Uchiha-sama, but you requested to be notified of any significant developments regarding Uchiha Sasuke of Konoha."
Itachi turned away from the counter to face her. "That is correct. What news do you have?"
To Kisame's surprise, the woman bowed from the waist and switched into the archaic dialect used for ceremonies and formal pronouncements. "It is my sorrowful duty to inform you that your brother, Uchiha Sasuke-san, genin of Konohagakure, has departed this world." She remained with her back bent, eyes fixed on the ground. Another formality, Kisame knew, intended to give the bereaved time to turn away so that his tears wouldn't be seen.
There was no outward change in Itachi's demeanor, and his voice when he said, "Thank you, you may go," was even, but Kisame could feel the air ripple around him, and Samehada shifted against his back.
"I c-can't go. I can't move." The kunoichi who'd brought the message was trembling all over. There was a thump as the civilian weaponsmith behind the counter passed out.
Kisame remembered his first meeting with the Uchiha. When he'd laid Samehada against the younger man's shoulder, he'd felt the sword's rustle of interest travel up his arm. He'd known at that moment that Itachi was the stronger of the two. This feeling was similar, but intensified a hundredfold. The killing intent that washed over him like a tide, that held a jounin paralyzed and had knocked an untrained man to the ground, wasn't even directed at any of them. This...this is just backlash. He almost felt bad for whatever poor bastard it was aimed at. Almost.
"Come on, up and at 'em." He put a hand against the jounin's back, helped her straighten up, and guided her to the door. Then he peered over the counter and gave a brief nod when he saw that the shopkeeper hadn't cracked his skull open when he'd fallen.
"Kisame." The waves of killing intent ebbed, but didn't fade entirely. "We must speak with Pain-sama at once."
"...This constitutes all I know of Konoha's defenses. I will also prepare dossiers on all of their ninja who possess sufficient strength to threaten Akatsuki members."
Pain stood in the center of the room, his ringed eyes impassive. "You are aware that I could execute you for having withheld this information?"
"Then why are you telling us now?" Konan's voice was sharp.
"Danzou of the Leaf was present when Hanzou betrayed you, resulting in the death of your friend Yahiko-san, correct?"
"Then we both bear a grudge against him and against his organization, Root. I have recently learned that Danzou's agents killed my younger brother. So long as I can avenge his death, what happens to me afterward does not matter."
Konan watched the young missing-nin as he stood waiting for Pain's decision. His gaze was fixed on the back wall of the room, his shoulders squared and his arms hanging loosely by his sides. To the casual observer, perhaps even to most shinobi observers, he looked like a textbook example of a ninja standing at attention. But to Konan, his rigid posture was like a bowstring that had been stretched too far and was about to snap. The rage and grief seething beneath the surface made the air vibrate, and she was reminded of Nagato in the moments after Yahiko's death: the anguished cry, the monstrous statue towering above him, the black metal rods piercing his flesh and draining away his vitality to fuel the Gedo Mazou. She remembered, too, the carnage that had come afterward as she and Nagato had tried desperately to slake their thirst for vengeance. Itachi was holding the same insanity within himself, but she was sure that even his extraordinary willpower wouldn't be able to keep it restrained forever.
She glanced at Pain and knew that he recognized it too. You see yourself in him, don't you?
"The Five Great Ninja Countries have trampled over the smaller villages for too long, but it seems that even toward their own they hold no loyalty. Assemble the dossiers you spoke of, and make whatever preparations you and Kisame-san think are needed. We leave for Konoha in three days."
"Are you okay?" Chouji sat down next to Shikamaru. To anyone else, Konoha's laziest and most intelligent rookie would have looked completely relaxed. He was laying on his back with his arms crossed under his head, staring up at the clouds. But Chouji could see the slight frown line between his brows and the tense set of his jaw.
"There's something I suspect but can't be sure of, and I'm not sure whether I should tell Naruto-san about it."
"Naruto-san? Does it have something to do with those Akatsuki guys?" Everyone knew two members of the infamous S-rank criminal organization had showed up in Konoha and put Kakashi in a coma. Aoba had blurted out that they were after Naruto, which had led to Sasuke rushing to a nearby village where the blond genin was training with Jiraiya of the Sannin. Naruto and Jiraiya had come out of the resulting encounter unscathed, but Sasuke...
"Not directly," Shikamaru said, although he had other suspicions about why the Akatsuki might be interested in Naruto. "It has to do with how Sasuke-san died."
"He died from whatever jutsu Itachi used on him, didn't he?"
"Then why didn't Kakashi-senpai die? According to Naruto-san, Itachi's partner said, 'Using Tsukiyomi on your own brother? You really don't know how to show mercy.' And according to Kakashi-senpai, Itachi called the jutsu he used in their encounter Tsukiyomi as well. It was the same thing."
"Well, Kakashi-senpai's stronger than Sasuke-san, isn't he? Maybe he was able to withstand Tsukiyomi, but Sasuke-san wasn't."
Shikamaru shook his head. "No, that doesn't make sense either. Kakashi-senpai's not an Uchiha, so his Sharingan must be a transplant. Sasuke-san's Sharingan, obviously, is natural. In terms of using and resisting Sharingan jutsu, Sasuke-san should be stronger than Kakashi-senpai, regardless of their comparative overall strength."
Chouji still looked unconvinced.
"On top of that, remember when Naruto-san and Jiraiya-sama brought Sasuke-san back? Before they left again to go looking for Tsunade-sama, they consulted with the medical corps, and the medics assured them that Sasuke-san's condition wasn't time-sensitive. He wouldn't get better without treatment, but he wouldn't get any worse either. Whatever Itachi did to him, it shouldn't have been fatal."
"But then...what did kill Sasuke-san?"
"I don't like this at all," Tsunade muttered.
"Hokage-sama?" Shizune peered around the door, Tonton in her arms. "I have the latest communication from Sunagakure here."
"Set it down on that chair over there," Tsunade said, gesturing to a chair that was already about to collapse under the weight of a stack of documents.
Shizune carefully laid her papers on top of the tottering pile, watching Tsunade from the corner of her eye. The new Hokage was leafing through a folder, a frown on her face. Somehow, Shizune got the impression that this was more than just the normal headaches of running the largest shinobi village in the world. "Is something wrong?"
"Close the door," Tsunade told her, and Shizune did so. "I'm reviewing Uchiha Sasuke's autopsy report."
"But you prepared that report yourself."
"Yes. And do you know what I found?"
Shizune didn't answer, but Tonton made an inquisitive noise.
"The body keeps a record of how it died, Shizune. That's why we do autopsies in the first place. And the record in Sasuke-kun's body doesn't agree with the records being kept by the Konoha Hospital."
"I don't understand."
"I doubt anyone else would have noticed it. Probably not even you. But to me, it was very clear. Sasuke-kun did not die from the kind of slow deterioration you would expect if his body was simply unable to cope with the damage from the Tsukiyomi that he'd received two weeks prior. He died suddenly."
"And the hospital records...?"
"Indicated that his condition was steadily declining from the moment he was brought in. In addition to that being inconsistent with the autopsy findings, no such decline was recorded in Kakashi-san's case, even though he was unconscious for just as long."
"But...but that means someone tampered with the hospital records!"
"It's worse than that. It means that someone murdered Sasuke-kun, and I don't think it was his brother."
A/N: Many thanks to The Pirate On Wheels for suggesting a title for this story!