Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters.
Warnings: Character death...ish. Manga spoilers up through Chapter 662.

Notes: Written for the Cotton Candy Bingo challenge, prompt "open."

A Far Green Country

I can't let it...end here... Sasuke struggled to push himself up on one elbow. He seemed to hear Itachi's voice echoing in his ears. "The village has its darkness and contradictions, but I'm still Uchiha Itachi of the Leaf." Even after everything he'd been forced to endure, Itachi still considered himself a shinobi of Konoha. If he hadn't given up on the village, what right did Sasuke have to? As loud and annoying as Naruto could be, the brat had the right idea: the Hokage was the leader of the village, so if something needed to be changed in Konoha, the Hokage was the one to do it. I must create...a real village...until I demonstrate...what a real Kage is...

Senju Hashirama's dream had been a beautiful thing: an end to the clan wars, different families working in harmony, ninja abilities being used to build and defend instead of destroy. But it had all gone rotten somehow, and not just in Konoha. Gaara had been ostracized for the first twelve years of his life, until he gradually became the monster everyone assumed he was. In Hidden Mist, children killed each other as a rite of passage, and those whose genetics made them different were slaughtered. Someone had to show the ninja world a new way. I...can't die!

But each heartbeat wracked him with pain, and those beats were getting further and further apart. The shouts and booms of the surrounding battle were getting fainter; the cracked and broken landscape grew fuzzier. Sasuke's eyelids drooped, and he forced them open. Madara spared him one last glance, then turned away, completely unconcerned. The anger that an enemy would dare turn his back on him as if he were no threat at all gave Sasuke a surge of adrenaline, but it didn't last, and his eyes fell closed again.

Is that...a bird chirping? What on earth was a bird doing here? Someone's summon maybe? And what was that soft, fresh-smelling stuff under his face? Surely not the hard rock of the plain where they'd been fighting Madara. That had given off the charcoal smell left behind by katon jutsu. It felt and smelled like grass, but it couldn't be, because all the grass on the battlefield had long since been burned away.

Sasuke opened his eyes. He was laying in a grassy area enclosed by a wooden fence. A rhythmic thump-thump made him turn his head, and he saw a small ornamental pond off to the side. Water poured into it from a bamboo contraption that periodically knocked against the rocky border of the pond. A cherry tree hung over the fence, and sure enough, a songbird of some kind was perched on one of the branches.

And then it all clicked.

Sasuke was in the backyard of his own house, back in Konoha. Fugaku had given the bamboo pond-ornament to Mikoto one year as a birthday gift. Sasuke had once climbed up into that cherry tree and almost fallen out. But how had he gotten here?

Oh shit. I'm dead, aren't I?

Pushing himself to his feet, Sasuke turned in a circle. There was no one else in the yard, but he heard voices. Some were coming from over the wall, as if there were people in the neighboring backyards. Others, he realized with a chill, came from inside the house.

And the back door of his parents' house was standing open.

Sasuke took one tentative step forward, then another. He had set one foot on the porch when a figure appeared in the doorway.

Itachi was wearing a simple, dark blue kimono and his hair was tied back in a ponytail as always. At first, Sasuke couldn't quite place what looked different about him. Maybe it was the clothing? He was used to seeing his brother in some ninja uniform or other. But it seemed to him that the change was something deeper than that. After a few seconds of silence, he realized what it was: the lines under Itachi's eyes were gone, and his face no longer seemed drawn and careworn.

"Hello, Sasuke. I had hoped not to see you here so soon."

"Yeah, well, I wasn't too keen on it either. Madara seemed pretty pleased with himself, though."

"Madara!" Itachi's eyes narrowed for an instant, and then his face smoothed out again. "But if you fought him, that means you didn't succumb fully to the darkness hidden in our bloodline. I am glad."

Sasuke shrugged. "I kind of decided I was tired of people manipulating me and wanted to make my own decisions for once. Uh, no offense."

Itachi shook his head. "None is taken. It makes me...happy...that you found your own path to follow."

There were still voices filtering out from within the house, and one of them sounded tantalizingly like Mikoto's. "Can I come in?"

"You would not be here if you couldn't," Itachi said, but he made no move to step aside so that Sasuke could enter.


"Sasuke, I...I am aware that after what I've put you through, I have no right to ask you for anything more. However...I would prefer if you didn't come inside just yet."

"Why? What's wrong?"

"Nothing is wrong here. But a great deal is wrong in the world you recently left. Your friends are in danger, and Madara may yet trap the entire world in a never-ending illusion. When I was raised as an Edo Tensei by Kabuto, I warned Naruto-kun that he cannot do everything himself. Sometimes he must rely on his friends, and chief among those friends is you."

Sasuke hesitated with one foot on the porch and one on the grass. He remembered the desperate situation the Alliance had been in when he'd died: his Sharingan had seen everyone's chakra growing steadily fainter, and it hadn't taken a Sharingan to see the bright blaze of Kurama's chakra dissipating. Yet he couldn't ignore the tug of everything he'd longed for since the night of the Massacre, for home and family and something resembling normalcy. He knew, too, that Itachi wouldn't reproach him or be disappointed if he repeated his request to enter. "No matter what you do from here on out, I will love you forever."

"Will you still be here if I come back later?"

Itachi's gentle smile shone like the sun rising after a long, dark night. "Of course."

Sasuke stepped back fully onto the grass. "Will you tell Tou-san and Kaa-san..." Sasuke trailed off, unsure what to say. "Tell them I said hi" seemed vastly insufficient. "Tell them I'm sorry" felt a little better, but he knew both of them would scoff at the implication that he was in any way responsible for not having been able to protect them. He finally settled on, "Tell them I'll do my best to make them proud."

"You already have," Itachi answered. He took a step back, over the threshold of the house, and slid the door closed.

Intense dizziness overcame Sasuke, and he fell to his knees, then full-length on the ground.

Bright flashes of light filtered through Sasuke's eyelids. The shouts around him and the way the ground shook under his prostrate body declared that he had returned to the world of the living. Not quite up to lifting himself yet, he settled for rolling over onto his back. The sky above him was trying to be blue, but clouds of dust and sand kept rising to obscure it. Something was strange, though. His vision seemed so much sharper than it had been, sharper even than it had been immediately after the eye transplant. Raising one hand in front of his face, Sasuke gasped. Not only could he see the chakra in his hand, but also the hair-thin pathways through which it flowed, and even the points at which it could exit the body when molded. The tenketsu! But only the Byakugan is supposed to be able to see those!

Sasuke fumbled at his side for his chokutou, then remembered that Madara had planted it in the ground a few feet away. Getting onto his hands and knees, he crawled over to it and reached up, intending to lay a hand on the hilt and use it to pull himself back to his feet. He stopped as he caught sight of his face reflected in the blade.

My eyes...

They were no longer red, no longer combining the three blades of Itachi's Mangekyou with the star of his own. Instead, concentric rings stood out against a background of iridescent lavender.

The Rinnegan!

A/N: There's a fan theory going around that Sasuke's near-fatal injury at Madara's hands will be the catalyst that allows him to awaken the Rinnegan, which is where the ending of this story came from.

The title is a reference to LOTR, when Gandalf tells one of the hobbits that upon dying, one sees in the distance "a far green country."