Yay! Third chapter of Parting Gift. Thank you everyone who's reviewed and favorited!

Warnings: incest, fluff, Sasuke being moody/melodramatic (well, he is kinda melodramatic in canon), future smexy good times, angst

Disclaimer: don't own. Significant parts of Itachi's and Madara's dialogue were taken from the manga

Please review! Reviews help me improve my writing, and even something like 'update' motivates me to write faster. I'm especially a bit uncertain on Sasuke's characterization, so I'd love some feedback on that

Unfortunately I'm not entirely positive when the next chapter will be - I've been struggling with depression the past two weeks or so, and my ability to write has evaporated :( I've got ch 4 about a fifth of the way done, but it's kinda stalled


Don't tell me it's not worth tryin' for.
You can't tell me it's not worth dyin' for.
You know it's true:
Everything I do, I do it for you.

-Bryan Adams


He awoke to a jagged stone ceiling. Sasuke shut his eyes, disorientated, believing for one brief moment that he was back in one of Orochimaru's hideouts until the reality of the past months – the last hours – crashed down on him.

Itachi.

Sasuke took in a ragged breath and fought the urge to cry.

He cried that night...

And he couldn't decide if he wanted to believe Madara or not – if he wanted Itachi to have loved or hated him – so he squeezed his eyes back shut and forced himself not to think.

For the first time in his life, he successfully sunk back into the void of unconsciousness.


"Everyone lives, bound by their own knowledge and awareness. That's called genjitsu, reality. But knowledge and awareness are vague, perhaps better called genjutsu, illusion. Everyone lives within their own subjective interpretation, don't you think?"


As he awoke again, Sasuke became aware of ropes binding him tightly. His chakra buzzed sluggishly under his skin – repressed.

The sound of footsteps –

"So, you're finally awake."

Sasuke gritted his teeth. "Go away and leave me the fuck alone." He couldn't believe what the man had said – had no proof to back up the absurd claim that Itachi had loved him.

Madara 'tsk'ed. "Don't be so childish. You passed out before I could finish my explanation."

"I don't want to fucking hear it! I don't – I don't care anymore! Just never come near me again!" Sasuke curled in around himself, the whispers in his mind multiplying a thousand-fold until they became screams.

"Even if you don't want to acknowledge the truth, and want to continue living blissfully in your ignorant world of illusion... It's your duty to your brother to hear me out. Don't you owe him at least that, this man who risked everything to protect you?" Madara's voice had again become beguiling, and some quality of it reached into Sasuke's mind and soothed his misery.

Sasuke let out a shuddering, half-sobbing breath, but made no motion to stop Madara.

"The only ones who knew the truth at that time were the Sandaime, Danzo, and the two advisors, Homura and Koharu..."

Sasuke became increasingly dizzy as he listened to Madara's long-winded explanation, until he couldn't help but choke out, "He killed everyone... I hate him... My goal..."

"It's true, that he killed the entire Uchiha clan that night. And... He did it all on orders from Konoha!"


Nii-san...

"Even if it's just as a hurdle for you to overcome, I'll always be there for you. Even if you hate me. That's what big brothers are for."


"The man who cried tears of blood as he smothered his emotions and killed his brethren... Couldn't bring himself to kill you. Why do you think that is? For him your life... Weighed more than the village."


Foolish, foolish older brother... How come you never realized that, even as my hatred consumed me, I never stopped loving you?


Sasuke opened his eyes to the soft zaaa zaaa zaaa of rain falling like tears, to the crackle of flames, to the hissing of snakes and the stillness of the grave.

He knew this place.

Smooth wood beneath his palms. A traditional rice-paper room lit only by firelight, its source unseen. The slow creaking of old beams. The babble of water streaming under raised platforms. Sasuke scowled and unsteadily rose to his feet. He hated being here, locked within his own mind, especially after melding with Orochimaru left grotesque forms surging from the floor and walls alongside the ever-present bloodstains.

Why the hell had he returned?

The light flickered and almost died as a stray gust of wind rushed through heedless of the walls. Sasuke shuddered. The room he'd awoken it was completely empty, and when he stepped out into the hallway he could see only half-collapsed shells where Orochimaru's tortured sculptures had been. Sasuke surveyed the scene impassively as he focused inwards. Something else had changed – a different scent on the wind, a heaviness similar in magnitude yet far less menacing than the sannin. The shadows had become sharper, the paintings on the screen doors reflecting dark birds and hawks rather than snakes and mountains.

He sighed and pondered where to go. There were several distinct sections in his mind (or had been, last time he checked), three of which he dreaded: a representation of his parents' room where his nightmares lurked and brooded; a pond and endless forest where he'd shoved everything Naruto and hidden every scrap of Itachi from Before; and a dark, twisted labyrinth where he'd locked away Orochimaru's consciousness. He'd definitely need to check Orochimaru's cage. If Madara's words were true, he'd also have to find whatever remained of Itachi's soul. Sasuke flinched at the thought – unless he got lucky and Itachi had simply replaced Orochimaru, he'd probably have to venture into his parents' room and the forest. Somehow, Sasuke couldn't decide which hurt more, the nightmare of his clan's demise or the gentle memories of those precious days with Itachi and then Naruto.

Sasuke headed to the labyrinth first. The entrance sprang into existence behind an otherwise unassuming screen door, revealing a narrow and steep staircase rapidly descending into darkness when he opened it. It had unnerved him at first, the dark whispers and almost conscious power flowing from his curse seal, buried deep underground within his mind. Now, though, Sasuke felt no hesitation as he strode blindly into the depths, even as all light vanished.

His footsteps echoed for several minutes, the sounds changing and warping as he passed side corridors and rooms. The air had definitely changed. Tendrils of power no longer caressed him from each open doorway, and he could no longer hear the soft beating of a foreign heart. No water trickled down the walls.

Finally, he came upon the last chamber. A faint glow came from a serpentine form coiled loosely around a massive heart. The heart had vanished, what little remained of the attached parts slowly rotting. The white snake breathed only shallowly, parts of its skin missing and exposing a dark void.

'Hate them,' it hissed weakly to itself, trying and failing to lift its head. 'Hate them hate them hatehatehatehate – Konoha! Damn – hate them – that bastard Uchiha – hate – destroy – kill them all – make them pay – hate them – put Konoha to the torch – hate them all – tear every last one of them apart, how dare they – HATE THEM!'

"Pathetic." Sasuke severed its head before it could react. He didn't need any part of Orochimaru to survive and influence his decisions, after all.

The corridors slowly collapsed as he left, disintegrating entirely rather than fading back as they usually did. Sasuke forcibly expelled any and all remnants, wiping that part of his mind clean – the labyrinth had outlived its purpose.

He emerged into a murky half-light. The room's far wall gaped open, revealing a thick sheet of rain. Weak sunlight filtered through, rather than the usual dark firelight. If he listened, he could hear faint ghosts of laughter in the distance.

Sasuke rarely cared to listen.

He could easily feel Itachi's power now, a sort of silent hum like a lullaby accompanied by the heavy wings of crows. Their harsh calls mixed with the birds native to Wave to produce a discordant melody. Sasuke sprinted towards the source, pulse thundering in his ears. The rain vanished as he moved through it, fading into a soft sun-shower as fireflies spontaneously rose from the grass.

Then –

Itachi.

Not a shade or a ghost or a half-formed fantasy, but Itachi, realer and more present than Orochimaru had ever been. He sat cross-legged before a shallow, overgrown pond, facing away from Sasuke.

"Nii-san," Sasuke whispered, hardly believing it could be true.

Itachi turned around to face Sasuke, utterly expressionless. Sasuke ruthlessly squashed the hint of disappointment within him – what had he been expecting? A smile?

"Is it true?" he blurted out. A frown flickered across Itachi's face.

"Parts. Not entirely, though, and he's twisted much of it." Itachi spoke quietly, refusing to meet Sasuke's gaze.

"You're innocent…" Tears prickled behind Sasuke's eyes. 'You're innocent and I murdered you.'

Itachi shook his head. "No. I never was. Regardless of my motivation, I am still guilty." He turned, meeting Sasuke's gaze head-on. Sasuke realized with a jolt that Itachi's eyes were unclouded, his stare unwavering. "I wanted to die by your hand, otouto. Don't blame yourself for my death." He glanced to the side again, a hint of uncertainty creeping into his much quieter voice. "To die in your arms like that… was more than I had dared dream of."

Sasuke's chest hurt. He stumbled over to Itachi, falling to his knees in front of his brother. "Why… Just… You could have told me! I… I would've made you happy." His breath caught in his throat. Then, quietly, "I would've tried."

Itachi just smiled ever-so-slightly. "Would you have believed me? If when you came to kill me, I instead told an outlandish tale of how I'd been forced, and tried to convince you to join me?"

Sasuke squeezed his eyes shut, hurt. "I don't know," he whispered.

A hand cupping his cheek. Sasuke barely repressed a flinch.

"Sasuke." He cracked open his eyes, heart skipping a beat at the peaceful smile on Itachi's face. "I am happy now."

"How can you possibly be - ?" Sasuke's voice broke.

"Foolish little brother. I'm with you." Itachi leaned in, giving Sasuke plenty of time to react before their lips brushed. Sasuke grabbed Itachi's head, pulling those sinful lips back when they tried to pull away. Sasuke'd kissed and been kissed before, always in the context of a power play, some attempt to express dominance or wheedle information. This… This was softer, and Itachi's simple ineptitude at just kissing somehow made his heart stutter.

He pressed several closed-mouth kisses to Itachi's lips, breath catching at Itachi's awkward attempts to meet him. Their noses brushed, neither quiet managing to tilt their head at the right angle. Sasuke let out a breathless chuckle before cupping Itachi's face and forcing his brother to still. He lapped at those gorgeous lips, begging for entrance. After a few moments, Itachi responded hesitantly, tongue darting out to meet Sasuke's. Sasuke actually smiled for the first time in years as he deepened their kisses, swallowing Itachi's gasps as he began exploring with his hands.

He removed Itachi's hair tie with only a little fumbling, allowing Sasuke to run his hands through that gorgeous, silky hair. His fingers massaged circles in Itachi's scalp, causing his brother to shudder and moan slightly. Sasuke pulled back from the kiss and smirked.

Itachi's eyed had drifted half-way shut, his gaze clouded once more. An acrid taste intruded into Sasuke's mouth, the familiar twisting in his gut of bitterness clashing with the faintest hints of unfamiliar doubt.

"Do you really want this?" He glared off to the side, spitting the words out. "Or are you just humoring me?"

Itachi chuckled, inflaming Sasuke's anger even as an embarrassed heat painted faint dots on his cheeks. "I was tempted to ask you the same thing, otouto." The old nickname made Sasuke shudder. Such an innocent word, but with that gorgeous voice, it suddenly sounded obscene beyond belief.

Hands stroked his bare arms as Itachi leaned in again, his breath ghosting past Sasuke's ear. "Sasuke… I want nothing more than to be close to you, as close as two people can be, to even become one with you..."

Disgust rose in Sasuke suddenly, a sickening, coiling feeling he usually associated with Orochimaru's experiments – with his own silent complicity. He shoved Itachi away, sharingan flaring. His brother let himself fall back before rising and moving away on his own. Bile rose in Sasuke's throat at the sorrowful cast to Itachi's eyes.

"I'm not that little boy anymore," he spat, rage (and he knew it was irrational, but he couldn't help himself, and with every word his self-hatred grew). "I'm not going to blindly follow all your wishes. You don't fucking know me! I still – you're so… A person like me…"

"Sasuke," Itachi said, far too calmly. "I understand."

"No, you don't! You don't fucking understand me! I hate them!" Sasuke panted, chest aching. "You – you love Konoha, don't you? Even – even with all they've done, even with all the corruption?"

Itachi nodded, slowly. "Yes. I'll admit, the village does have a dark side and inconsistencies of its own, but… No matter what, I am still Konoha's Uchiha Itachi."

"I'll destroy them," Sasuke hissed through clenched teeth. "For all they've done to you – I'll destroy that bastard Danzou, and if the village gets in my way – if they side with him, I'll burn them all away! So – so don't you dare say 'I want to be one' when we work for such different goals!"

Itachi glanced down and to the side, his gaze somewhere distant, beyond even the perceptive abilities of the Mangekyou. "I don't resent you for that, Sasuke. After all, it's entirely my fault that you've become this way, so I can't really criticize your decision, now can I?"

"My choices are my own," Sasuke whispered, eyes burning for some reason. Itachi just smiled gently at him.

"I can show you the truth, if you want…" Sasuke nodded, and –

This… is Itachi's memory…

Tears gathered behind his eyes, but refused to fall as Sasuke watched those days leading up to the Massacre. How is this supposed to change me? It only makes me hate the entire shinobi world more… You were so young, so how could everybody possibly justify placing such a horrendous load on you?

At last the genjutsu ended, fading into Itachi's heartbreaking smile. Itachi stood, his soft, regretful expression painfully reminiscent of their childhood.

"I always lied to you, otouto, telling you to forgive me. I always kept you so far away with my own hands. I just… didn't want to involve you in that mess. I wanted you to remain innocent for as long as possible. But now I realize that maybe you would've been able to change our parents and the Uchiha. If only I had faced you from the start, tried to see things from your point of view and spoke the truth… But I failed then as I've failed you every day since. I know that nothing I can say now will reach you, because what use have my words ever been?"

He started walking slowly towards Sasuke, hand rising as if to poke him on the forehead yet again. "Yet, I'll say this one thing. You don't ever have to forgive me," Itachi's hand tapped his forehead and then slid around, fingers threading through Sasuke's hair as Itachi leaned in. Their foreheads brushed, reminded Sasuke of those breathless kisses. "Or even return my love, because no matter what you decide from now on…

"I will always love you."