Genuinely mind-blown by the reception for this. I mean... I'm just experimenting around with this idea. Didn't actually expect people to like it. How the fuck has no one ever written a story about Sasuke's psychological turmoil, or just him going straight up ape-shit crazy from Itachi's Tsukuyomi before?

(And why the fuck are there so many Itachi-dick-sucking fics out there?!)

There are over hundreds of thousands of Naruto fics for fuck's sakes. Why is it so hard to find good ones about Sasuke? (THAT ISN'T YAOI GARBAGE!)

Meh. Guess I'll just keep on writing. Maybe I'll reach a point where someone stops reading my work cause I veered off the dark end, and then writes his own that'll be much better. Who fucking knows?


Sasuke-kun!

The scene was different. Blood dripped freely from his mother's severed neck. Her eyes blank and vacant. Maggots and worms spilled forth from her lips in a wide smile. She presented a plate, a bloody, beating organ lay on it. Her smile fixed, even as she approached him, step by step.

"Sasuke-kun! COME AND GIVE YOUR MOTHER A HUG!"

She lunged at him, spewing bugs and dribbling blood. The smell of copper and rotten meat itched at his nostrils. Her long nails stretched towards him, her neck cracking and spinning one-eighty degrees.

"Foolish."

Her body dropped into chunks. As always, her murderer stood, blade in hand, wiping away the blood from the weapon, his red spinning eyes glowing. Their gazes met.

"Why?"

The first dozen times, he yelled the question. Desperate, eager, yearning to know what sort of possible justification could be provided. The next dozen, he'd whispered it. Now, his tone lacked the slightest inflection as the answer came.

"To test the limits of my ability."

The answer never satisfied him. To test the limits… to see how far he could go. To see if he was capable of annihilating an entire clan. To have attained a level of power where he felt such was a feat was the next step in his progression.

The blade came down as it always had, striking him in the middle of the chest, as the prodigy gazed down upon him with red eyes like a hawk would regard a termite.

"Foolish little brother."

His eyes snapped open. Sweat covered his form and soaked his sheets, his body immediately springing into action, his hands blurring to reach for the kunai under his pillow.

No intruders lay in his room. There was naught but silence save for the gentle ticking of his clock. The absolute silence of a clan that ordinarily bustled with life and noise greeted him. The seven-year-old stood in that position for several seconds, the ticking of the clock his sole companion. His gaze turned towards it.

2:04 AM.

It had only been thirty minutes since he last woke up. His gaze turned to the ceiling, noting the numerous holes that now peppered it from when he'd leapt from the bed believing that he was under attack.

Slowly, he dropped his hands from his defensive stance. He kept the hidden kunai in their right place, calming his rapidly beating heart with two deep breaths. It did not stop the heavy feeling in his chest. Nor did it ensure that he was capable of returning to sleep. For the previous month, he had been capable of sleeping due to exhausting himself day-after-day by working on his sculpt of his parents non-stop. He reached for his blistered hands, hands that endured cutting into wood with finesse using swords and kunai. The physical exhaustion from the labor had earned him tired sleep.

Now, he possessed nothing that would be capable of replacing the exhaustion that would grant him that rest. He longed for that quiet. For a dreamless night. For a night where he did not wake up tossing kunai at his shadows.

He turned his gaze back to the clock, and then back to the room. He immediately dropped to the floors, pushing himself upwards with both hands, lowering his chest, spreading his arms further, descending, and rising in that manner. In time, they would tire him out enough to return to sleep.

Seconds passed. Minutes. Hours. Uchiha Sasuke remained unsure of how many push-ups he completed as light began to stream into his room and the sun rose up into the horizon. A spark of irritation dabbed at him, but was swiftly quelled. It was not the first occurrence of this sort.

He leapt to his feet, covered in a thick layer of sweat. He contemplated the desire to cook breakfast, and almost dismissed it. Almost, save for the fact that he needed the appropriate meals and vegetables in order to grow stronger and taller. Starvation and malnourishment would be detrimental to his goal.

With that in mind, the Last Uchiha departed from his room, into his kitchen, and began to make breakfast. The sizzling of a pan, the whistling of a kettle, the hiss of a gas flame became his acquaintances.

The seven-year-old ate his breakfast in quiet, bathed in quiet, and departed from his house quietly. He stalked through the abandoned streets in silence, the slowly dusty houses in silence, and the large empty compound in silence. He reached the gates, touching a paper tag on it and flaring his chakra, sending it wide open. He closed them behind him, stopped in front of his massive carving of his parents, and took a brief, formal bow to them.

The brief image of his mother's lifeless eyes staring at him flashed in his vision.

"Sasuke-kun…"

The only "value" of his constant dreams about her death, was that he would continue to hear her voice. Screaming his name. Screaming for mercy. Screaming as she died.

"SASUKE-KUN!"

He had spent the equivalent of several years listening to his mother's screams, watching her die again and again and again.

"Sasuke-kun."

He did not want vengeance. No. Not truly. He just wanted… to stop hearing her.

"It was Itachi's fault for killing you."

"Sasuke-kun."

"But it is also your fault for being weak enough to be killed."

"Sasuke….kun."

"Good mothers are supposed to protect their children. Not the other way around."

"Sasu –"

"It's not my fault that I couldn't save you."

"Sa –"

"It is your fault. For not saving yourself."

"S–"

"If you were a good mother, you'd never have let yourself die."

"…"

"You'd never have let your son be alone."

"…"

"You'd never have raised a son that could kill you."

"…"

He stood, staring at the sculpture, inhaling shortly, before shaking his head. He listened, slowly, for the familiar voice. For the sound of her whining, grating voice. Nothing but the rustling of leaves against the wind struck his ears. Then, Uchiha Sasuke turned away from the carvings, expressionlessly commencing his day, in further silence.


¬ ~ XXXXX ~ ¬


"Back again Uchiha-san?"

Sasuke merely provided a casual nod to the dark-haired courier. Ever professional, he reached into his pockets, retrieving a small stack of coins, disregarding the need to count them as they were hitherto arranged before his meeting. The courier accepted the coins, not even bothering to check if the amount was correct. He provided the boy with several papers.

Sasuke rapidly collected them, his eyes rapidly rolling over their contents. Information from other major hidden villages was often coveted and classified. In a world where information was the key to conquering your rivals or demolishing your enemies, it would be beyond foolish to actually print out the truths and happenings in your village and have them on paper for public consumption.

The "Newspapers" of other hidden villages were often nothing more than highly edited pieces of falsified information and hearsays. The truths within it were sprinkled with layers upon layers of embellishment suffocating any sort of journalistic veracity. Regardless, some things could not be ignored nor could they be lost to the vestiges of falsities. Among which, the annihilation of entire clans or the dubious misdeeds of S-Rank Criminals would not be euphemized.

"Find what you're looking for?"

Uchiha Sasuke's nose crumpled. "No." He looked over the papers, caring little for the stories of the glowering praise of Jinchuriki in Kumo, or the supposed Boogeyman Sand-Demon of Kumo, nor did he care about the blatant discrimination against bloodline wielders in the papers produced by Kiri.

Dissatisfied, he rolled up the papers as always, and casually put them within his pockets.

"You know, if you could tell me what it was that you were hoping to find…" the courier trailed off.

Sasuke looked up at the young man, pursing his lips. "Testing the limits of his ability."

The courier's gave a blank look. "Pardon?"

"He said he wanted to test the limits of his ability." Sasuke continued. "But he has not done anything noteworthy since that night."

Sasuke expected to see monstrous details about him in the news. Perhaps, he would go out of his way to make himself a figure of terror in Kiri. Perhaps he'd assassinate the Kage in Kumo or Suna. Maybe spark a war or utilize his abilities to conduct genocidal cleansings of those in his path.

But there was nothing. Nothing. In the two months since the massacre, Uchiha Itachi's name seemed to have faded into absolute obscurity. A man who would kill his own parents, cousins and family merely to see if he was strong enough to accomplish the feat… why would he suddenly become a ghost afterwards? Why had he not continued on a path of blood and destruction? Why was his name not yet synonymous with the atrocities of the world?

The dissonance between words and actions left Sasuke feeling uncertain. The possibilities for his sudden departure from the limelight of the world did not bode well. Either he was planning an action so grand and disastrous that he did not have time to partake in lesser squabbles, or, potentially more terrifying, he intended to be forgotten by the world, only to reappear at an unexpected moment and reap in the magnified chaos from the terror his presence would inspire.

"Uchiha-san?"

Uchiha Sasuke turned to the courier, giving him a brief nod. He departed from their meeting spot, his mind rapidly realizing that he did not have time to waste. He needed to attain strength as quickly and as rapidly as possible in order to hunt down his brother. He would not, could not, wait until his brother decided once more to return and seek out another means of testing his ability.

Problematically, however, Uchiha Sasuke understood that he was weak. He did not know the strength he currently possessed, but the seven-year-old was not foolish enough to believe himself Chunin-level, yet alone Jonin or ANBU. He had no true measure of testing his strength, for he was yet to engage in combat against individuals of such level and gauge his ability.

The gap between himself and his target was wide, but not insurmountable. His target had graduated at age seven, become Chunin at age ten, ANBU at eleven, and made ANBU Captain at age thirteen.

To truly surpass his target, he needed to graduate at seven, make Chunin at eight, Jonin at nine, ANBU at ten, and ANBU Captain at eleven. However, his strength needed to be above and beyond what his rank indicated. He needed to be Chunin-level at Genin-rank, Jonin-level at Chunin-rank, and Kage-level at Jonin-rank. To be above and beyond his target was the only way he would be capable of defeating him.

For now, Sasuke knew not his current strength. He did not know his current strength, and he also needed to graduate the academy before his eight birthday in order to surpass his target. These were two seemingly unrelated problems, however, within the mind of the last Uchiha, they possessed a common denominator, and hence, a single solution.

Hence, Uchiha Sasuke made his decision.


¬ ~ XXXXXXX ~ ¬


Konoha Academy

"H-hey – is that – is that who I think it is?"

Hushed whispers and rapid conversation broke out immediately as people spotted the familiar dark-haired boy with a fan symbol proudly portrayed on the back of his shirt walking towards the prestigious Academy for up-and-coming Genin.

"No one has seen him since he unveiled the sculpting of his parents…"

"I heard he got dozens of requests from several rich families to sculpt things, but turned them all down."

"He's coming back to the Academy? But it's only been two months since…"

"Shhh! He can hear you!"

Numerous eyes waxed over his form, and he paid them no heed. He already knew what his goal was, and he possessed the desire to accomplish it more fervently than before. Entering into the school, he noted the students who gave him a wide berth, ignored them all, and approached his classroom.

A dozen young gazes shot in his direction, silence cutting across the room as everyone realized who he was. Perhaps, in another time, another place, Uchiha Sasuke would have calmly and quietly taken a seat, avoided eye-contact, avoided talking to people as he mulled over his tragedy and became socially recluse. His silence would have been bemoaned, but eventually accepted as part of a routine, as he continued his academic schooling in the eventual preparation for his goal in life.

Unfortunately, this was not that time nor place. Uchiha Sasuke did not go quietly into the night and accept his lot and tragedy with silence. He stood at the front and center of the room, with numerous eyes gazing upon his form, and calmly uttered two words.

"The Strongest."

A boy with a pineapple-shaped hair-do rose his head from the desk, casually glancing at him. Another boy, eating from a small bag of chips, also gestured at the unusual notion. More students, either confused or uncertain, turned to stare at the Uchiha.

"Who is the strongest?"

The silence in the room was broken sharply. "Hah! It's me ttebayo! I'm going to be –"

No one in the class could understand it. One second, the resident blond troublemaker was shooting his mouth, answering the challenge, and the next, he was doubled over, Uchiha Sasuke appearing in front of him with his fist slammed into his stomach. The follow-up axe kick slammed into the back of his head, driving the blonde's face into the ground with neither hesitation nor mercy, as the sickening crack of some broken bones echoed in the classroom.

Perhaps, the most alarming thing about the entire endeavor, was the absolute monotony that seemed to appear on the face of the Last Uchiha as he methodically knocked out his classmate in two solid moves.

"Anyone else?"

The room was rapidly tense. No one knew the Uchiha for random acts of violence, however, no one had seen him since his entire family and clan had died, supposedly at the hands of the boy's own brother. They could not expect him to be completely sane after such a tragedy.

"Oi – you can't –" Kiba snarled, and the Uchiha's gaze shot towards him.

There was something primalcrucial in the gaze of the boy. Something that sung with an uncertain anger. It was almost as if someone had insulted the sanctity of his parent's marriage, or perhaps, killed his dog in a torturous manner. The resident Inuzuka wanted to mouth off, but every hair on his body stood on edge and every primal instinct warned him that it would be a horrible idea to say something foolish. Wisely, Kiba swallowed his words.

The Last Uchiha let out a 'tsk' of annoyance as he sauntered out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him. He moved onwards to the next class, the class directly above his class, barging in with neither care nor problem, and immediately numerous eyes landed upon him, he made his declaration.

"The Strongest."


XXXXX


Eight-Year-Old Hyuuga Neji was often confident in his abilities. Despite being of the Branch Clan, and despite fate's insistence that his life be subjected to the whims and cruelties of those in the Main House, he maintained a sense of pride and self-worth in his abilities. He was superior to many in his class, already being hailed as a genius in taijutsu, and within his clan, his abilities outranked and outstripped that of the heiress of the Main House, something that brought him even further pride at besting his cousin.

Neji understood the sensation of attaining minor victories. He, like the rest of his clan, were experts at celebrating quietly the triumphs against their foes. Quietly when it mattered, but proudly when it was inconsequential. Such as, for instance, the vanquishing of the Uchiha Clan by one of the clan's very own members. Neji would be a fool to have failed to notice that numerous members of his clan were pleased with the outcome, with the realization that the Hyuuga would now increase in value as the sole Great Doujutsu users in Konoha.

The Uchiha were done for, all save for one boy, one boy, who, according to several rumors, was now a social recluse, carving giant wooden sculptures of his deceased parents and locking himself up within his empty clan walls. Neji did not bother himself with such rumors or celebration, believing that if fate had decided Uchiha Sasuke's path in life was such, then so it would be.

At least, right up until the moment the boy in question stormed into his classroom and blatantly asked for the strongest student. Of course, many others laughed dismissively at the demand, right up until the Uchiha brought his laughing seniors to their knees in well placed, powerful strikes.

One of his classmates, the talentless one who could only use Taijutsu, had seemingly been awed by the boy's attacks, and accepted his challenge. The outcome was as fate decreed, the Uchiha devastating him in the only area of a shinobi he was barely passable as.

Neji was not sure what motivated him to rise from his seat and approach the haughty Uchiha. He could not tell if it was an inherent desire to defy his fate, or perhaps, a way to acknowledge it. The Uchiha was a year his junior, and regardless of how hot-blooded he was, there was little to be gained from defeating him.

No. That was a lie. There was plenty to be gained from humbling the last Uchiha. Especially if the word were to spread.

His intention had been to end it with three rapid strikes of the gentle fist to the boy's tenketsu. However, he had not anticipated on the boy dodging.

Uchiha Sasuke's movements were eerily akin to a dancer, a calligrapher, or a swimmer, weaving out of the way of the palm strikes, and launching a devastating punch aimed for the Hyuuga's face. Expertly, Neji caught the blow with his left hand, the force of it sending him skidding backwards.

"Finally." He heard the Uchiha whisper. "A good measuring stick."

No opportunity was provided to respond as their battle at the front of the classroom continued. The Uchiha blurred forward, stunning Neji with the unexpected litheness, as the boy attacked with a high kick aimed for the Hyuuga's face. Neji parried the blow with a palm strike, targeting three tenketsu within the boy's leg as he did so. The Uchiha hobbled backwards on one leg, his expression neutral as he glanced down at his right leg to examine the damages.

"The Jyuken is the ultimate Taijutsu style of Konoha. It was beyond foolish of you to believe you could defeat me, kouhai."

If anything, those words seemed to spur the Uchiha on. "Show me."

Neji acquiesced. He lunged forward, palms racing in to the air in strike after strike, jab after jab. One by one, the Uchiha dodged. His eyes locked unto Neji's form like a predatory serpent, his gaze picking out each individual move, each jab, each thrust of the palm. His eyes followed their paths and their intended targets, marking them, memorizing them, noting each and every one.

The Hyuuga grit his teeth in frustration at the inability to land a solid hit. It stung at his pride to admit it, but the Uchiha was faster. Lither and nimbler – almost as though he were a female contortionist. The difference in speed and agility ensured that none of his attacks would connect. The Uchiha dodged by bending low, weaving, leaning forward, twisting, twirling – and essentially bobbing and dipping out of the way of attacks.

He succeeded in pushing the Uchiha backward, against the benches, only for the boy to begin using them as props to evade. A palm strike aimed for the Uchiha's stomach was avoided as the boy took a hand stand on a desk. Neji continued onwards with a jab aimed for the boy's arm, only for the boy to flip off the desk, flip the desk, and use it to counter, forcing the Hyuuga to slam his fingers against the metal with a sharp grimace.

Irritation began to bubble up within him. "Is dodging all that you are capable of? I did not take you for a coward Uchiha!"

A palm strike slapped against his stomach. Neji's eyes popped open from the force, he coughed, skidding backwards and pushing away several desks as students gave way in lieu of the fight. The Hyuuga's eyes widened, as he looked down, noting the area where the strike had connected, and noting the manner of the strike.

"Is that all?"

In a mockery of generations of Hyuuga, in a deep insult to everything his clan stood proud of, Uchiha Sasuke stood before him, his palms extended outward, his feet forward, and his body in the exact stance of the famous Hyuuga Taijutsu style – the Gentle Fist.

Rage bubbled within him. "YOU THIEVING –"

The one problem with the Gentle Fist, was when it came to fights against itself. As a Taijutsu style reliant on disabling tenketsu and swift strikes, it meant that the superior fighter was the one who was faster. The one who was faster would land the most strikes, and therefore, would take down their opponent quicker than their opponent could take them down.

Problematically, the Uchiha had already proven himself faster.

Thus, when he lunged forward with a series of palm strikes, Neji could only stare in utter disbelief as he found himself beaten at his own game. Two forceful strikes connected with his chest, one slammed against the side of his head and rattled his brain, and the final one slapped against his chin and knocked him into the air.

He crashed haplessly into several desks, landing in a dizzy, disoriented state, and barely able to regain his bearings, before a sandaled foot blurred overhead, and an axe kick slammed into his face, depriving him of his consciousness.


XXXXXX


No one dared move. No one dared speak. The class of seniors remained absolutely silent at the disbelieving scene of Uchiha Sasuke standing triumphantly above the unconscious form of Hyuuga Neji. The top student in their entire class, beaten, nigh-effortlessly by someone a year their junior.

The last Uchiha did not seem tired. He did not seem satisfied. He did not even seem remotely aware or pleased by his victory. If anything, his expression seemed to twist into one of utter disappointment.

"This cannot be right." His voice cut across the classroom effortlessly.

"It is not that I am strong. I am not. I am not strong compared to him." His expression twisted into confusion. "I am not strong. So… why then, is everyone else weak?"

No one in the class understood. Rather, all they could gleam from the Uchiha's words, were that he considered everyone weaker than himself. If, someone, anyone, had known that Uchiha Sasuke considered himself weak in comparison to the likes of Uchiha Itachi, that if Sasuke had mistakenly anticipated the average academy student to possess even a fraction of the skills and capabilities of a rare Uchiha-prodigy, they would have informed him that his expectations were set too high.

They would have told him that Uchiha Itachi was a once-upon-a-generation type of genius, whose name was placed amongst the ranks of individuals like Hatake Kakashi and Namikaze Minato. Individuals who were above and beyond their peers in terms of ability and combat power, and hence, to believe that most opponents he fought would be of the same level of such an individual, was, simply put, insane.

But no one understood. No one knew, that Sasuke was attempting to surpass what was already considered unsurpassable. That beating Uchiha Itachi's record was essentially to become a literal genius-among-geniuses. That the average individual could not even hope to be as talented as the prodigious Itachi, so it was impossible to comprehend being superior. It was like a mouse who had yet to defeat a cat, suddenly dreaming of massacring lions.

Hence, disappointed in the lack of a suitable challenge from the strongest of the class, Uchiha Sasuke turned to the rest of them, and casually spoke.

"Perhaps it will be more challenging if you all attack me at once?"

He was not being arrogant. Nor was he being conceited. No. Uchiha Sasuke merely spoke the frank truth that emerged from his brain. He did not intend to insult or demean anyone, for there was no profit to needless antagonizing of his peers, and the only one he held a grudge against was his target.

Unfortunately, he failed to realize the erstwhile implications of telling a class of your seniors that it would take all of them attacking at once in order to give you a challenge.


XXXXXX


Hokage's Office

Sarutobi Hiruzen painstakingly rubbed his face as he stared down at the slightly roughed up form of Uchiha Sasuke. The boy did not even look the slightest bit bashful or ashamed of his actions, rather, he merely stared straight at him with some sort of satisfaction? Hiruzen could not even begin to understand what exactly was going through the mind of the recently orphaned child. It was a mere two months since his family had died at the hands of his brother, and although Sasuke had won the hearts of numerous individuals in the village with his giant carving of his parents, there was no doubt in Hiruzen's mind that he'd lose a lot of goodwill with his latest stunt.

"Sasuke-kun. Do you know why you are here?"

"You intend to take me on as your personal apprentice."

Hiruzen actually blinked in surprise. It was rare for someone to make an utterance so completely out-of-nowhere that it caught him completely off-guard. "No, Sasuke-kun." The Third Hokage said. "I'm not making you my apprentice."

"Konoha's hunter-nin has failed yet again to capture my brother?"

The Third Hokage hesitated a bit on that. "That is not the reason why you're here."

"He has resurfaced and massacred another town?"

Hiruzen rubbed his nose, feeling his old age in his brittle bones. "Sasuke-kun – "

"There are an unknown number of variables for which I could be called to the office of the Hokage."

"You attacked an entire class of Academy Students." said Hiruzen, exasperated. "You were pulled away from the scene by Chunin Instructors, and you are covered in scrapes and bruises."

Sasuke took a long glance at himself. The boy's lips seem to turn downwards a bit in dissatisfaction. "I failed."

Hiruzen slowly reached for his pipe. "Failed?"

"I could not defeat them unscathed."

The pipe faltered between his fingers. "That is what bothers you?"

Sasuke's lips thinned. "I remember seeing Itachi after he massacred my clan. There was blood on him, none of which was his." Sasuke's voice was monotone. "I cannot remember him showing a sign of exertion. Against the full might of the Uchiha… not a strand of hair moved out of place."

The words, or perhaps, the mix of sheer revulsion, awe and unspoken fear that emanated from the boy's posture gave Hiruzen pause. Monotone he may have seemed, absolutely detached he may have sounded, there was absolutely no denying the emotions encapsulated in his words.

"I struggle to defeat a class of individuals a mere year above myself." Sasuke continued. "And the gap only grows larger. Every day, he faces stronger opponents and masters better techniques. His skills become sharper, his blade more honed. And I am to catch up to him. How?"

"What are you –"

There was nothing perhaps sadder, or perhaps more worrying than the sight of an Uchiha on their knees. But Sasuke had gone above and beyond that, his forehead kissed the floor as he bowed, completely, utterly, in front of the Hokage.

"Please. Tell me. How can I kill my brother?"

Hiruzen swallowed, feeling the dryness of his lips and parchedness of his mouth. His cigar felt ashen and bland. The color of the room felt almost as dull and as lifeless as the seven-year old boy begging him for answers. "Sasuke-kun… please, stand."

"Teach me to become strong. Under your tutelage, I –"

"I cannot train you Sasuke."

"I will provide with you the full wealth of the Uchiha Clan. The Library, the heirlooms."

"Sasuke-kun. Stop."

"Everything that I have inherited. If I –"

"Uchiha Sasuke."

The voice of the God of Shinobi, of the man known as the Professor, cut across the room, it's presence and weight enough to cow and intimidate and make flee normal men. Uchiha Sasuke rose his head from the wooden floors, his eyes widened at the pressure, the force, the power that reverberated command.

Hiruzen felt none of the power he exuded. No, he felt like a brittle old man in a house made of glass. His bones were chalk being washed away at the shores of a raging ocean. His breaths were slow, wispy reminders of the Shinigami's eventual arrival. He glanced down at the boy looking up to him for answers, and his years upon years of experience felt ill-equipped to provide him with any.

"I cannot teach you Sasuke-kun."

Ever expressionless, the Uchiha could but utter a simple word. "Why?"

There were numerous answers he could have provided. That perhaps, he was occupied with his duties as Hokage, with his job running the village. That he was old, and past his prime to take on any more apprentices. Or perhaps, the real reason, that he felt he was a poor teacher, as his students still stood today as his greatest regrets, particularly one orphaned, black-haired student.

One orphaned black-haired student, which Uchiha Sasuke deeply, painfully reminded him of.

Moreover was the excruciating truth. The truth behind that night. Behind the actions of Itachi. A truth that Uchiha Sasuke could never know, could never find out, lest, this zeal and frantic desire to kill his brother morph, dreadfully, into hate and spite for the village.

None of the reasons he provided would have satisfied the boy. No matter how well thought out, how seemingly earnest and sincere. They would be like stray strands of fire, charging headfirst into a burning forest.

"I'm sorry, Sasuke-kun."

The Uchiha collected himself. Properly, standing to his feet, the seven-year-old boy picked up the broken pieces of his dignity and pride. It was worse, Hiruzen realized, that this was perhaps the boy's first ever attempt to reach out and seek help from someone. From anyone. To be rebuffed so harshly…

Perhaps he should assign a tutor to the boy? A personal teacher, one that would at the very least, mollify his current desires. However, he could not in good conscience fan the flames of Uchiha Sasuke's quest for retribution. He shuddered to think, what would happen if the boy did complete his goal. Where would those flames, burning fervently for justice and vengeance turn?

"Will you at the very least promote me to the rank of Genin?"

Hiruzen grimaced.

"Combat-wise I have proven myself to be superior to my peers. Remaining as an Academy Student will be detrimental to my growth. If I were a Genin, I would be able to access better resources and challenges suitable to further my growth."

"I'm afraid I can't do that either Sasuke-kun."

"Is there a reason this time, or another ambiguous apology?"

Hiruzen sighed, taking a long, tired drag from his pipe. "Becoming a Genin entails more than just physical strength. You need knowledge as well. Mastery of the basics, of the three academy jutsu, knowledge of terrain, of basic chakra theory, geography, topography, basic tactics, of the rope-escape techniques, camping and survival essentials, the ability to discern deception or partake in it should the need arise, and of course, more than anything else," He exhaled, a smoky plume emitting from his lips. "You need to be capable of teamwork."

"Where am I supposed to attain knowledge of all that?"

"The Academy."

Sasuke fidgeted. "And how long would it take, at the academy, for all that knowledge to be properly disseminated?"

Hiruzen slowly placed his pipe on his table. "The standard syllabus runs for about five-to-six years –"

"And you would have me remain as an academy student at the same age he was ANBU Captain."

"Itachi grew up during the Third Shinobi World War. We allowed people younger graduation ages because more talented shinobi were needed on the battlefield. It was a necessity." Hiruzen stressed. "Thankfully, we are not in the throes of war and we do not need to have people graduate quite as early. This is not the Warring Clans Era where children who have barely begun to walk are sent out as assassins and spies."

He noticed that the boy was fidgeting even further. His hands, twitching restlessly. "So even if I were to finish the entire syllabus before the next year, you would not allow me to graduate." The silence was uneasy. The seven-year-old boy seemed to have twitching, agitated fingers.

"If it was decidedly unanimous by all your teachers that your skills were truly above and beyond that of your peers, I would consider it… however, nothing is certain."

"I see."

Sasuke's fingers continued to twitch. It was almost erratic, tapping, and jerking and convulsing seemingly on their own will and accord, whilst the boy's visage appeared unerringly unchanged. It was a disturbing tell to his clearly troubled state of mind.

"Sasuke-kun, I understand that your goal is to end your brother's life. However, there is much to living than just a quest for vengeance. If you forsake everything in this world to pursue that goal… then in a way, that night…" Hiruzen took a deep breath. "You died as well."

"So I should merely pretend my brother did not run his blade through my mother's chest and live my life as I please?"

Hiruzen grimaced. "That is not what I'm –"

"Is there anything else you wanted to discuss with me, Hokage-sama?"

Slowly, painstakingly, realizing that no words he uttered would make its way through to the boy, Hiruzen allowed himself to nod. He watched the boy with the twitching fingers and blank face vacate his office, an uncomfortable feeling slowly settling within the depths of his stomach.

"Neko." He called to his guard, watching her appear in a swirl of leaves. He didn't need to instruct her, for she already knew her instructions, nodding, sharply, and vanishing into the wind.


XXXXXXXX


His chest was burning.

Why?

He was uncertain. He began running as soon as he left the Hokage's office. The sensation within his lung felt as though he'd wrongly performed a fire ninjutsu. It reminded him of his earlier attempts to master the Katon: Goukakyu in order to earn his father's praise. Of the feeling of hot, smoldering pain desperately needing escape, coiling and constricting through his windpipe.

Except, he had not attempted, nor failed to perform any jutsu. No, the burning sensation in his chest grew and grew and swelled into a lump in his throat that would not go down no matter how desperately he swallowed the saliva swirling in his mouth. He ran, ignoring pedestrians and people, pushing aside all in his path as he kept moving, with neither destination nor purpose.

Eventually, he realized he was being followed. He'd long since attuned his senses to note when he was being observed by the ANBU, and as it was the same ANBU, the same person who did not believe or see a need to change their methods of tracking him, he could always tell when she was observing him.

Knowing that he was being watched did not stop his chest from burning. Rather, it made it burn even hotter. It felt now, as though smoldering coals had been meticulously placed on his ribcage.

He came to a stop at what seemed to be a training ground. Kunai littered the ground, scorch marks and upturned dirt visible as far as the eye could see. Recently used, but currently abandoned. His gaze landed upon a training dummy, unblemished, unbent, unbroken.

He rushed at it. His jittering, shaky fingers slammed into the object, the recoil and sensation of wood rattling his bones felt almost euphoric. Again, he slammed his fist, and he realized, the burning in his chest reduced. A little. Very, very little.

So he continued. Right fist. Left fist. Right fist. Left fist. Smashing and smashing, and smashing and smashing, and smashing and smashing and smashing. His bones song, the fire in his chest ebbed, a forgotten, almost guttural sound bellowed from his throat as blood poured leaked escaped knuckles and painted his target an unearthly red.

He envisioned his target as something else. Someone else. A man with a pipe and a grandfatherly visage who did not understand. Who could not understand. A man who did not go back to an empty house and listen to the voice of a dead woman. A man who did not wake up in utter silence and dream of the one responsible. A man who sat comfortably, believing himself to be some wise noble sage, condemning the choices of another person because he believed he was doing what was best.

Best for himself, perhaps.

But not best for Sasuke.

Even now, he was being watched. Scrutinized. Observed. A white rodent in a glass box, being prodded and pushed around to study the results. Konoha was no more his home as it was his prison. The Hokage was no more his leader as he was his jailer. They could not help him defeat Itachi. They did not care about helping him defeat Itachi. Whilst Itachi massacred his Clan, the people of Konoha slept peacefully.

Did none of them hear any screams or cries for mercy?

The single thought stopped him. His bloodied fist stuck against the caricature of what was once a training dummy. Cold washed over him as though he'd been splashed with ice water.

Did no one, not one person in the village, see the smoke? Smell the blood? Hear the screams and pleas?

Or did they… did they hear it all… and did they ignore it?

He forced aside those thoughts, dropping flat on his back. His gaze turned to the darkened sky, the moon hanging overhead, realizing that hours upon hours had passed and he knew not how long he had been there, striking away at the wooden object.

His eyes slowly closed, his body feeling lethargic as a cold, unwelcome realization struck him. Konoha… Konoha was not his home. They were not his people. The Uchiha Clan was his home. The Uchiha were his people… And they were gone.

The one responsible still walked the earth, and if the Hokage, if Konoha would not give to him what he needed to correct that –

Then he would take from Konoha what he needed by force.

As long as he could kill him. As long as Itachi lay dead at his feet. No cost was too high. No actions too filthy. Pride and shame and material possessions? Inconsequential. Loyalty, bonds and shackles of duty? Disregarded.

It was not justice which drove him. It was not vengeance which spurned him. It was necessity.

Uchiha Itachi needed to die.

Uchiha Itachi needed to die, so Uchiha Sasuke could begin to live.