Author's Note: Yes, yes, I know, you hate me. I deserve it. But this idea hit me like a freight train and I needed to run with it. I have high hopes for this one - like I don't with every one I write. Let me know what you think! I haven't really planned out the pairings yet so I am open to opinions. I am exhausted and going to bed. Enjoy! And goodnight!

Disclaimer: I own nothing!

Warnings: Language, un-beta'd, mentions of cruelty to children, OOCness.

Word Count: 5,502

Someone so much smarter than Itachi had once said, save one child, save the world. But Itachi didn't save anyone. Honestly. He probably did so much more damage than he did saving. All of the bad that he's done in his life can't be balanced out by the meager good.

It was a mistake. He didn't mean to take them with him. He's not a kidnapper. He's not a monster that rips families apart – well, aside from his own, he supposes – yet he did. For two families. Stole their children from them.

"We want to be here," they had assured him. But that might be Stockholm Syndrome talking. No, in fact, he's certain of it. He's betting on it. Nothing either of them could say would ever make what he did okay. Because while they were pretty accepting at the time with a bit of resistance, they still weren't really given a choice.

Plus, what did a bunch of eight-year-olds know?

He was supposed to kill Sasuke too, because of the coup de tat. With the fact that it's near impossible to sift through the entirety of the clan to figure out who all is involved in the coup and who isn't. Not that anyone in their right mind would believe that little Sasuke would have anything to do with this at all, but Danzo's impossible timeline wouldn't allow Itachi anything more than simple speculation and a very simple limitation on who lives and dies.

Regardless of what Danzo wants, Itachi and the Hokage made a vow. Itachi would spare all of the children younger than ten. And the Hokage would help protect them.

Sasuke was supposed to be safe regardless. That was the only one that Itachi absolutely would not lay his hand against. He never spoke allowed to anyone but the Hokage. He admitted that he knew that it would be a mission failure, and he knew that, but he couldn't say it aloud because he wasn't going to let anyone stand in his way of protecting his precious little brother.

He was supposed to live in the village after Itachi left. He was supposed to be a hero who would bring honor back to their bloodstained, traitorous clan. He was supposed to be great. He wasn't supposed to vanish that night. He wasn't supposed to go missing the night his family died. He wasn't supposed to be one of four children that went missing that night. But maybe, in order for it to make sense, he simply has to start from the beginning.

To the weeks leading up to that night – the night of the Uchiha massacre – to the many years that followed, were allies and siblings and acquaintances and friends find themselves and save the world. This path walked by a guilt-ridden young man, a broken teen, a scarred boy, the heir to a Hokage's legacy, a girl with nowhere to go and an heiress with nothing left to lose.

Maybe they weren't all supposed to bond when they did.

"I'm home!" Sasuke's voice echoes through the house, pulling Itachi's eyes from the scroll sitting in his lap to look over at the door leading into his bedroom. He doesn't move and holds his breath, listening to the sounds of footsteps through the house. He recognizes Sasuke's steps, but there is two - no, three - others with him. It's unusual for Sasuke to bring home guests, and judging by the steps, their young, or light at least.

The Academy only started a few weeks ago, so it's not out of the ordinary that Sasuke made friends, it was just... unexpected. It's nice to see Sasuke laughing and playing around with other kids. Itachi never brought classmates back to his home, seeing as he was so much younger than his own and he was out of the Academy relatively early and off to war. He can't pass up the chance to see his brother living the life that he never got to.

"Nii-san," Sasuke says, spotting his elder brother peering into the living room. Three other little heads turn in his direction. Two girls and a boy. "I didn't know that you were home."

"Huh? Oh, it's you!" the little blond boy exclaims, pointing over at Itachi.

Sasuke glances over at him. "What? You know my brother, Naruto?"

"Yeah! He helped me out last week. The old man at the market was being a real asshole! He was jacking up the prices to his products." Naruto grins up at Itachi. "He helped me out. He got me some food for free!"

"Wow..." a little Hyuga girl says softly, looking between Naruto and Itachi, eyes wide.

While the other girl, one with a shock of pink hair, looks at Naruto, paper thin eyebrows pulled together. "Why was the old man in the market jacking up the prices?" She blinks innocently.

Itachi frowns at that, knowing why that old man in the marketplace was being so cruel, but couldn't understand why he felt like he should be. The Nine-Tailed Fox inside of Naruto. Itachi knows about it. He's known about it for years. Certainly, he wasn't supposed to know about it - seeing as something as important as that was kept secret - but he had overheard a report from one of his cousins to his father in regards to Naruto. His cousin had nothing kind to say about Naruto either, but his father was quick to dismiss him, not sharing the common belief that Naruto is a monster.

That he's the fox.

Since then, Itachi had taken to watching the boy, curious enough to want to make his own decision on the matter. He can faintly, faintly remember that day. A dark shadow that stretches for miles in all directions. So massive it blocked out the full moon blazing in the sky. He remembers holding Sasuke to him, so small and frail against his body, as a roar rocks the world around them, shaking him to his core. Sasuke's little mouth was inches from his face, and Itachi couldn't even hear him screaming until the rumble came to a stop.

So he was interested in the boy who was only a few short months younger than his little brother. So whenever he caught wind of the boy, he would watch and make up his own mind about the little blond. He has decided that Naruto and the Fox are not one and the same. So whenever the boy needs his help, if he can, he does whatever is necessary. Like the instance the blond was talking about. It is absolutely repugnant of that shop owner to deny a hungry child food by upping the price of his goods for that child in particular.

But Itachi has seen the little Hyuga girl before too. She is the heiress of the Hyuga clan. She's always so quiet and shy that she tends to try her best to blend into the background in order to avoid gaining any attention from anyone. But whenever they both happen to be a party hosted by the clan families, Itachi enjoys spending his evenings entertaining the young girl. It's been a few months now and he thinks he's built relatively good rapport with the little girl. She smiles daintily when she catches his eye.

So he has.

And that little pink haired girl... yes. She was the one that Sasuke has a baby crush on. Well, if he were to ask Sasuke, he was just curious about the girl with bright pink hair, but if let be as it is, soon enough it might be an actual crush. Luckily, Sasuke is the second son. He's not like Itachi. If he wanted to, he could marry whomever he wanted. He could marry for love if their father wasn't such a stickler - which hopefully he wouldn't.

At least Sasuke would get to be with who he wanted to be with. Itachi... well, he has been engaged since long before he could remember. It's not that he doesn't like his fiance, he does, but he's just not in love with her. Not that it matters. He will do what he must for the sake of those he cares for.

"Hello," Itachi says, looking between the four young kids.

"This is my nii-san," Sasuke says with pride, and Itachi's heart swells at the bashful smile sent his way. "Itachi-nii."

"Hello again," Hinata says softly, bowing her head with respect. Itachi more read her lips than heard her. Halfway across the room is too far for her light voice to carry.

"Hello..." the pink haired girl says, a deep blush working its way across her cheeks. "I-I'm Sakura... Sakura Haruno..."

"Nice to meet you, Itachi-nii, I'm Naruto! Naruto Uzumaki!" The blond grins his way.

Itachi smiles faintly at them. If this happened - more children, or even just these three - were to come over more often and liven up this dreary home, he would be happy. The Uchiha are too traditional. Too self-absorbed into what everything means for the clan. The clan isn't the only thing that matters. It's this right here, the moments shared with others, even if they aren't of the same blood that matter. The bonds forged with others.

That's why all the clans came together. To build relationships with one another. Love - both romantic or platonic - and of brotherhood. Something offered to war-torn families that they wouldn't otherwise get the chance to have. Or, maybe Itachi is romanticizing it.

Itachi wants Sasuke to be happy with other kids his own age. So seeing this, it makes Itachi happy too.

"What are we up to, Sasuke?" Itachi asks, stepping over to the couch to peer over it at the four younger kids.

Sasuke pulls his backpack up onto the table between the four of the students, pulling out a couple of pieces of paper, riffling through them. "We are doing an assignment and we are in a group together."

Intrigued, Itachi asks, "What is the assignment?"

"Someone who we admire," Sasuke says. "We have to research them, list out their accomplishments and talk about their lives."

Itachi never got to do anything like that when he was in school. He went through his time in the Academy so quickly that he didn't get to do things like that. Well, a war was going on, so he was shown what he didn't know, given a bit of time to learn it, before he was pushed through the system when he proved that he could do it and out into the real world.

Feeling silly for being so interested in a simple school assignment, Itachi backs off a bit, but was a touch curious and had to ask, "Who are you going to do?" All sorts of people came to mind for him. The previous Four Hokage, ancestors from the Uchiha or Hyuga clans, or maybe officials from the Land of Fire, oh! Or maybe they could do someone from the Uzumaki clan that helped fund the building of their village.

But this isn't his assignment. He's not needed to help. But he has to back off more.

"We aren't sure yet," Sasuke says. "We were given a list of a few examples but..." he trails off looking down at one of the slips of paper on the coffee table in front of him, biting at his lower lip in thought.

"But...?" Itachi prompts.

"Sasuke doesn't want to do someone that everyone else is..." Sakura says softly. She peaks through her pink hair at him, then back to Itachi."

Itachi can understand that. If he was given the choice, he would probably pick someone more obscure too. It makes this more interesting if they have to tell about these people in class with their fellows if there are more people than what everyone else is doing. Sasuke is much like Itachi in that regard, although unfortunately, it's harder to find decent, trustworthy, information on someone who is more obscure.

"We could do the Fourth Hokage," Naruto exclaims, excitement in his big blue eyes. "He's my idol!"

"Everyone is going to be doing him, he was on the list," Sakura says, looking over at the blond.

"That's what Sakura was saying, Naruto-kun..." Hinata says softly. The stare he sends her way is a glassy-eyed one, either he didn't hear her or for some reason, her words didn't register with him. He blinks slowly back at her like he doesn't understand. She stares back at him equal parts confused and worried for him, but not sure what to say.

"Well," Itachi says slowly, "I'll leave you to it. Mother and Father won't be home for a few hours, Sasuke, so let me know if you need me. I'll be in my room." He'll give them some space. He doesn't want to hover over them while they're working.

Sasuke chews on his bottom lip, staring up at his big brother with pitiful eyes. "Nii-san..."

Itachi stares back at him, heart warming at the sight of his little brother's expression. He could never say no to Sasuke wanting his help unless he had a good reason for it. Itachi isn't really doing anything too pressing, and who knows how many more of these moments he'll have? Perhaps somehow Itachi is trying to live vicariously through his little brother in this regard, but he wants to help is Sasuke wants him to.

"Sasuke..." Itachi says back, smiling faintly at his baby brother.

"Can you help us?" Sasuke asks, offering a cute smile to try and charm Itachi into doing what he already intended on doing.

Itachi nods, walking around the couch to sit on the floor between Sasuke and Hinata and starts going over it with them. It's fun going through all the options, giving the pros and cons to them and offering them what little bit of information he knew about each person. He ended up getting so into it, a few hours later, he found himself at the library with them. They all raced off and grabbed books about someone that they were interested in and brought them to the table in the corner of the library to go over them and vote some out.

Sasuke and Naruto were already pretty used to them, and while Hinata was relatively comfortable with Itachi, she wasn't so much with everyone else, and it appears that she's paying special attention to Naruto. Sakura, though, was all nerves and shy for a while there but finally seems to be coming out of her shell. Itachi's not sure why both girls are so shy, but it's nice to see them starting to come out of their shell.

But it's starting to get late and while they narrowed down a bit on who they want to do; Toka, the Senju secretary to the First and Second Hokages and one of the few women within the two founding clans that was given the rank of Shinobi, Mito Uzumaki, wife of the First Hokage and a world renown seal master, Kagami Uchiha, who was a close ally to the Second Hokage and even did battle against Kinkaku and Ginkaku, the two brothers that ultimately killed the Second Hokage and Sakumo Hatake, who killed himself a few years prior but was someone to admire for his dedication to his peers over the mission.

An interesting batch to choose one, but they still have a few days to decide who they want to do their report on. But now they have a few people to ponder over. It's late by the time they put all of the books back, so Itachi, Naruto, and Sasuke walk both Hinata and Sakura home. Hinata dips her head a bit when she spots her father walking around the corner of the house, eyes narrowed.

Itachi bows his head low to the clan leader. Sasuke and Sakura follow a moment later while Naruto stares back without any sort of recognition of what he's supposed to do. Itachi puts a hand on his back to force him to bow too.

"F-F-Father..." Hinata mumbles, flinching when his eyes land on her. "We-We-We were ju-just..." she chokes on her words, shoulder bowing inward as she drops her chin to her chest, looking horrified. Okay, maybe Itachi could understand why Hinata was so shy and nervous all the time. Her father's harsh view of the world around him is crushing the sensitive little girl. Itachi knew that she was shy, but he had almost no interaction with the Hyuga clan leader before this moment. Their clans don't exactly get along.

"Forgive me for bringing Lady Hinata home so late," Itachi says solemnly. "They were doing a project at the library."

Hiashi looks at Sasuke, then Sakura and when his eyes land on Naruto and an expression of contempt crosses his face that is like a stab to Itachi's gut. He releases his hold over Naruto, giving the blond the choice to continue bowing or to stand up tall, hating that someone with all-seeing eyes like Hiashi Hyuga couldn't tell the difference between an innocent boy and the beast that lies within him.

This fierce desire to protect both Naruto and Hinata from this man and his stabbing gaze overwhelms Itachi's entire being. He has to take a few deep breaths to stop himself from stealing both of them away and putting them somewhere he could protect them. But of course, he's not going to do that. He's just going to take Naruto away from this compound and pray that Hiashi doesn't destroy Hinata and her self-confidence.

He only got to see a bit more of the real Hinata lurking beneath her quiet and nervous exterior. Today she was smiling and laughing and speaking at an almost regular decibel, but now she has shrunk into herself once more once returning home. It makes Itachi sad because this is the place she should feel safer, but he's not sure that she does.

Itachi watches as Hinata goes into the house, feeling so bad for her, wishing that he could do more to help her. But he didn't know what to do other than to be kind to her and hope that her self-esteem grows in her time away from her father. When things start to go down with the Uchiha, hopefully, Sasuke will be able to be a good friend to her, and she to him.

Maybe he's too self-involved. This has nothing to do with him. He needs to keep to himself. He should be working alongside Shisui in trying to figure out what to do about the growing tension between the Uchiha and the Leaf, but he needed a break. He needed to get away from worrying out of his mind about what he needs to do about the Uchiha. He's got to convince them, somehow, that they need to find their love for Konoha again. That no matter how bad things are, there is no need to lose faith.

But he isn't sure how to get them to see what he sees so clearly. He doesn't want this to end in a conflict between his village and his family. There has to be a way that they can remember the love and loyalty they were supposed to have for Konoha. Today, talking about such influential people during the time of the founding of Konoha has reaffirmed Itachi's belief that they can still find that connection that they once had. They can bridge the gap between both of them and find that peace once more.

But maybe he's just a starry-eyed dreamer.

No, he won't give up on the Will of Fire. He can't give up. He won't give up until it is too late. No, maybe not even then either.

"Who was that?" Naruto asks as they walk away from the Hyuga compound.

"Was that Hinata's father?" Sakura asks, walking onto Itachi's other side. She reaches out and takes his hand, avoiding his eyes. "He's scary..."

Itachi's protective instincts are on overdrive but he stomps them down. He can't just go running off protecting all the kids in the Leaf Village. At least, not one at a time. If he can stop this conflict brewing between the Uchiha and the Leaf, then it will be like he's saving everyone. At least from this disaster. Well, he hopes so. If he can stop this, he's going to remember exactly who he's doing it for. The kids. Sasuke especially, but for all the rest of the kids too.

"Yes..." Itachi says softly. He frowns, wrapping his fingers around Sakura's little hand. "Just keep your distance and be respectful if you come across him."

"Why?" Naruto asks, he folds his hands behind his head and squints ahead of him. "Did you see the way that he looked at Hinata? He looked so mean." Naruto frowns deeply.

"I hope she'll be okay," Sasuke says, scratching the back of his head. "I hope he doesn't give her any trouble..."

Sakura's lower lip trembles. She's genuinely afraid, and Itachi feels so bad. He looks between the three kids with him and the little girl that they already left behind. But this all might just be Itachi being over dramatic.

"It'll be okay, Sakura," Itachi says solemnly. "Let's get you home."

Sakura nods slowly, holding tight to his hand, looking down at the ground as their shadows stretch against the dirt road as the sun sets behind them. They walk in silence, lost in their thoughts. Sakura only speaks to direct them to her house. As soon as they reach her house, Sakura's mom, Mebuki Haruno comes flying out the front door like a bat out of hell.

"Where have you been? Sakura! Come inside this instant!" She reaches out and snatches Sakura's hand.

"I told dad - " Sakura says, but Mebuki is already pulling her to the house.

"You know that you have to wait for me to come home before you go out," Mebuki says, shaking her head. "It's not safe out there for a little girl like you!"

"Ma'am," Itachi says, catching the older woman off guard. She looks over her shoulder at Itachi, blinking a few times like she couldn't what she was seeing. Like she hadn't seen him there. "I'm sorry for bringing Sakura home so late. She's in the same group as my little brother and they were working on an assignment together and I took them to the library to help. It's my fault, forgive me." He bows his head.

"Oh, no," Mebuki says, smiling. "I just didn't know where she was. She's always getting into trouble or hiding out in her room. I just didn't know. I'm glad that she was with you, lord Uchiha." Her eyes flicker down to Sasuke, then to Naruto and her smile drops. "Oh. Is that in the group too?"

Itachi frowns. "He is. And the assignment is important."

She looks unhappy and uncomfortable. "You won't leave them alone, will you?"

Itachi's shoulders slump, feeling a tightness in his chest once more. It shouldn't matter if he was there or not. Naruto wasn't going to do anything because he wasn't a monster. He wasn't a demon. Sakura was fine with him today. "Sure," Itachi sighs, "but it's not necessary. They are fine."

Mebuki looks like she didn't hear him at all beyond "sure". She lets out a long sigh of relief as if it was hanging heavily on her shoulders. "I'm glad. I was so worried."

Why? Itachi didn't ask, but he wanted to. Why do people choose to be afraid of something they shouldn't be afraid of? Why do people choose to hate when they don't have to? Why punish a little boy for something that he had absolutely no control over? Why try to make him into the monster they fear when he's not? When he's just a good little boy.

But maybe Itachi is just biased because he likes Naruto.

"Bye Sakura-chan!" Naruto says, waving. Mebuki turns her nose up at him. "See you tomorrow!"

Sasuke also gives a little, bashful wave to the small pink haired girl. Sakura blushes, waving her free hand a bit in return. Mebuki pulls the little girl inside, shutting the door firmly behind her. Itachi lets out a long-winded sigh, shaking his head.

"Let's go," Itachi says, turning away from the Haruno house.

They walk in silence for a few minutes before Naruto says, softly, "Do I have to go home now?"

Itachi nods, looking down at the little blond. "Yes. It's late and you two have school in the morning. Aren't you ready to go home?"

"No," Naruto says quietly. Sasuke looks around Itachi to the blond. He tilts his head to the side. He's too young to understand. He doesn't know what Itachi knows - what he forgot he knew until just this moment.

"Why not?" Sasuke asks, innocently.

"Sasuke - " Itachi starts to chastise his little brother. There are just some things you don't just ask about. If they offer the information that's one thing, but you shouldn't ask otherwise.

"Because there's nobody at my home, waiting for me," Naruto says sadly. There is sadness in his eyes. Something that Itachi can empathize with. An empty home with no sign of life outside of his own. That must be so lonely. Itachi's not sure which is worse, being somewhere surrounded by people and being alone, or wanting to be around people yet there is no one. To feel like you're alone or to actually be alone.

A sad curiosity.

Itachi looks away, pain in his chest once more. "Naruto..."

"Why don't you come stay with us?" Sasuke asks, innocently. "Then you won't be alone."

Itachi loved Sasuke. Truly, honestly, deeply. He didn't have the preconceptions that adults did. His view on life wasn't colored by hatred. Surely he didn't really understand why Naruto would be going home to an empty house, because that's not in Sasuke's reality. Why would Sasuke ever think that the home was empty because of... what? His parents died? They left him? Itachi didn't know why exactly Naruto lived alone, only that it probably had something to do with the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox.

Naruto brightens up like the sun. "Really? Can I, Itachi-nii?"

Surprised by the new title, it takes Itachi a second to nod. "It's okay with me, but you have to ask mother and father."

Sasuke shrugs. "Sure." It didn't make a difference to him, and Itachi loved his precious little brother for it. He was just so pure.

They were cool about it, Mikoto and Fugaku were. They were stunned at first, seeing the little blond standing in the doorway between both of their sons, but then they looked at each other, sharing a conversation with their eyes, before nodding and agreeing to let the boy stay for the night and to even have dinner with the family.

Itachi honestly thought they were going to say no. Considering all of the bad blood going on within the Uchiha clan and the rest of the village - plus considering how the adults treat Naruto in general - he just assumed that they would say no. But they seemed perfectly okay with the idea of Naruto stay - which renewed Itachi's hope that he would be able to convince his family not to turn on the Hidden Leaf Village. Naruto is quick to make himself at home and Itachi's parents are very receptive of him.

Maybe not all the adults in Konoha are so cruel to a boy who doesn't deserve the treatment he's given.

He holes up in Sasuke's room with him after dinner. Itachi heads back into his room, listening to the boys laughing and yelling from next room. Mikoto goes in there for the hundredth time, telling them to settle down, but she doesn't sound too upset. If Itachi had to guess, either his parents really like Naruto, or they are happy that Sasuke is making friends. Or maybe it's both.

But eventually it's time for bed and the boy settle down about an hour after they were supposed to, still laughing and giggling until they are too exhausted to continue and finally fall asleep. Itachi sits alone in his room, reading his scrolls in the moonlight, trying to catch up from his day off that he took. He's not ready to go back to his life dealing with the stress of this rift that has been growing between the Uchiha and the Leaf Village. It raises his stress level through the roof. Hopefully, there is a peaceful solution at the end of the road, but only time will tell.

A shadow blocks out most of the moonlight filtering in through the open window above where he's sitting. He looks up to see a figure with a dog mask perched on the ledge with his head tilted to the side.

He is decked out in full ANBU armor with a large silver mane practically glowing in the moonlight. He raises a single hand in a tiny wave of greeting as if it was the middle of the day, not well into the night. "Yo."

Itachi offers a thin smile, closing the scroll up quickly, turning toward the older man. "Kakashi-Sempai. You didn't have to come all the way out here."

Kakashi smoothly slips inside, overshooting the bed to stand next to it. He slips his shoes off before sitting down and removing his mask, letting it rest on his thigh, looking at Itachi with a single black eye. His other eye covered by his headband branded with the Konoha symbol.

"You've been a little..." Kakashi hesitates, looking down at his mask, running the pad of his pointer finger along the smooth surface. "Off, I suppose, recently. What's up?"

Itachi shakes his head, picking at a loose thread in his bedsheets. "It's nothing, Sempai. Just stress."

Kakashi huffs, shaking his head. "Yeah right. I don't believe that for a second. I know you, Itachi, and I know that something is deeply bothering you. You and Shisui." He hesitates and Itachi knows this is hard for him. Kakashi doesn't tend to butt into other people's affairs, so it must be especially bad acting on Itachi's part if Kakashi feels the need to interfere.

"It's just clan business..." Itachi says. It's not exactly a lie. It's just enough of the truth that Kakashi didn't immediately call bullshit.

They sit in silence for a moment, just listening to each other breath. Kakashi must have waited for Fugaku to walk his final lap of the perimeter of the house before settling down for the night.

"Talk to me," Kakashi says, turning his single dark eye toward Itachi again. "Whatever it is... well, I don't know if I can help, but I can be a listening ear if anything."

Itachi shakes his head. "I'm forbidden to talk about it."

Kakashi stares back at him, holding the younger boy in place with his gaze. "By the Hokage?"

Itachi nods slowly, looking back down at the loose thread on his bedsheet again. "So I can't say anything."

Kakashi sucks in a deep breath, nodding slowly to himself. "Okay. I understand, but if you need anything, anything at all, just let me know, okay? I'll help however I can. I mean it, you try and face everything alone. You do have help in me."

Itachi smiles faintly. "Thank you, Sempai."

They sit in silence again.

Then, "Itachi?"

The younger of the two perks up at the sound of his name. "Kakashi?"

Kakashi stares through him with a powerful dark eye. "Thank you for looking after Naruto today."

Yes, maybe there is still hope for people.