Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto

Older Brother: Always

Meetings after endless meetings…Itachi sat through them all, stony-eyed, mechanically answering all questions. His blunt, disinterested demeanour did not have the placating effect it should have, with the Hokage and the Elders screeching at him, threatening him, even the Feudal Lord of the Fire Country didn't seem his usual lethargic self when they contacted him via video-feed.

Itachi had promised himself that he wouldn't regret his actions. He'd made his choice, and he had to live with the consequences.

The streets of Konoha were different somehow now. Itachi felt as if he were a ghost, dismembered from the earth and watching through the veil. There was a clarity to everything that was usually only accessible to on-lookers, while the involved had to suffer through a haze.

He could remember the numerous conversations he'd had with various village officials, the Hokage and the two Elders over the past few days with startling detail. Telling the Hokage that her village held a very dreadful secret concerning the demise of the Uchiha had gone as badly as expected. Itachi had calmly explained the plan for him to assassinate his Clan, how that had been turned on its head and everything since then, ending with his decision to end Danzo's life. Tsunade had chewed on her fingernails, careful eyes flitting about the room as she processed the information.

When Itachi's story had come to a finish, she'd thumped her hand on the desk hard enough to crack the wood.

"That is a disgusting tale, Itachi Uchiha. I had doubts about Danzo, I'll grant you, but he always did everything for the good of the village. Can you two confirm any of this?" Tsunade addressed the two Elders, Homura and Koharu, who had been summoned to listen in on everything Itachi said.

They took their time replying.

"We can confirm it was in our plans to use Itachi as the assassin of the Uchiha. The Third Hokage was concerned about Danzo's mistrust of the Uchiha, as were we, so we kept a close eye on him and vowed to protect the two remaining Uchiha after his betrayal. We've had little to do with Danzo since then, and had no idea of his intentions to murder the last Uchiha's."

Tsunade's brown eyes, usually sharp, sometimes gentle, were then wide in grief. Itachi had to look away, knowing the pain of seeing the village, something he'd believed in, revealed to be the den of snakes it really was.

"And what are your intentions now?" Tsunade had asked Itachi.

"I don't know." He really hadn't – he still didn't know. "But I hope to remain a friend to the village," he'd said. He wondered about that now. For the first time in a long while, Itachi wanted his parents there, to comfort him and to show him the way. One's parents always had this uncanny ability to make decisions, and, no matter what those decisions were, they somehow seemed to be the right ones.

He tried to pull himself together as he walked to the hospital. He hadn't seen Sasuke for four days, and he'd rather not show up looking teary.

"Hey," Itachi said, offering a weak smile as he entered the hospital room. Sasuke was sitting up in bed, picking at his fingernails. Several emotions seemed to pass through Sasuke all at once.

"Hello," he said eventually, voice flat.

"You remember everything that happened?" Itachi perched himself on a chair next to the bed, with his arms closely folded.

"Yes. Unfortunately. Or fortunately, I suppose, considering everything." Sasuke seemed determined not to look at Itachi. "Just because you chose not to change me doesn't suddenly make you a Saint. Or make me forgive you." Sasuke was pulling vigorously at a fingernail. Itachi winced, resisting the impulse to reach out and stop him.

"What would you like to me have done? Would you rather I had made you into a different person, that didn't remember any of the past?" Itachi asked seriously. Sasuke shrugged.

"I don't know. I guess not. How have my Team been?" Team Taka had not been allowed to enter the village, and were given orders from Sasuke to stand by. Itachi had been glad to know they would be away from Sasuke for a bit. His brother did seem to have a knack for choosing friends that, to bluntly put it, pissed him off.

"They're fine. Worried about you, but they are waiting outside the boundaries of the village." Itachi knew the three ninja Sasuke had taken for his comrades were dangerous, either by being too wild or too cunning. However all three were very grateful to Itachi that he hadn't changed Sasuke. It was clear they still didn't trust him though.

They sat in silence for a while. It looked like Sasuke had gotten some weight back, and he wasn't looking so pale. Apparently his brother was being taken care of, which Itachi was glad for.

"I want to hear it from you," Sasuke suddenly said, eyes snapping up to glare right at Itachi. "I want to hear you tell me everything. Everything that happened with your involvement in the Clan's uprising, and anything else you've been hiding."

"You already know everything there is to know."

"But I want to hear it from you."

"I'll tell you, if that's what you want." Itachi would do anything for his little brother, comply with any wish. He should have told Sasuke the truth right from the beginning, but he supposed it was better late than never. "I was summoned to a secret council with the two village elders, Danzo and the Third Hokage. I was given a top-secret mission to observe the Uchiha Clan from the inside, as it was believed they were plotting a coup d'état…"

Itachi told him the story of Shisui, and what happened the night of the massacre, how Danzo had thwarted the plan and his obsession with eradicating the Uchiha. Sasuke listened very quietly, tense body showing how alert he was. Itachi could feel his throat drying out by the time he was almost done.

"I had to use Shisui's eye to overwrite the Genjutsu Danzo had put you under. There was no question it had to be done, otherwise you'd have kept believing you were loyal to Danzo. I thought the best thing would be to put you back the way you were. I made you believe in reality again." Sasuke had been watching Itachi as he spoke but now his head dropped back to stare at his lap.

"But this is the whole problem," he said so softly Itachi wasn't sure he'd meant to at first. "Once again, Itachi," Sasuke was spitting each word now, as if resenting every sound they made, "Once again I'm left with nothing but your word to believe, and your word isn't worth dirt!" As Sasuke was not in particularly bad form he had not been linked up to any heart monitors. If he had they would have been screaming now. "How do I know that you didn't change me, or make me believe something that isn't true? How do I know where the lies end!"

Itachi knew this would come about eventually. Telling someone their personality and memories hadn't been changed would always spur on doubts about the issue that may never have been there in the first place. And with everything else that had come to light it was no wonder Sasuke was questioning exactly what was true.

"I suppose you'll never really know," Itachi informed him. "None of us will know what truth is. But in your case, the best thing would be to focus on the little details. Everything will fit together like a puzzle. You know that no matter how intricate the Genjutsu there will always be holes. But I can understand if you don't want to take my word for any of this." Itachi paused for a moment, then continued,

"You know, I considered wiping your memories, so that the last thing you would remember would be the massacre of the Clan. Essentially you would believe that the massacre was the last thing you remembered and that you were eight years old again. That way you could hear everything about the coup and my involvement directly from myself, which is the way it should have been. I should have told you everything, right from the start. I was really going to do it for a second, wiping your memories I mean, and then I realised doing that would make me an even bigger liar, by erasing reality and my decision to hide everything from you. And it would mean erasing every skill you honed, every bit of knowledge you had gained since that point. You've grown into such a capable young man, Sasuke, and erasing that would be like saying I wasn't proud of you, which is the biggest lie of them all."

Sasuke tried to surreptitiously wipe his eyes. Itachi pretended he hadn't seen the glistening moisture that he caught on his fingertips.

"It's okay if you don't forgive me. But I'm always here." Sasuke just nodded, and they contented in silence for a while. Itachi broke it, asking his brother,

"What do you want to do now? Do you want to go back on missions? Tsunade is happy to forget the defection to Orochimaru and you can be re-enlisted as a Konoha Shinobi-"

"What if I don't want to be here?"

They both knew the answer to that: tough. There was no way anyone would let Sasuke just waltz off into the woods, especially not after everything that had happened. There were those who were permitted to roam the lands, like the Sannin Jiraiya, and could be called back to the village during times of crisis. However that sort of agreement was built entirely on trust.

Itachi said nothing. "I want to go travelling," Sasuke declared. "I can't stay in this village, at least not right now, I can't." Sasuke's voice shook more with every word. He turned panicked eyes on Itachi. "I need to get away, I can't stay here, I'll go mad."

Itachi got up, going to embrace Sasuke but stopping short. He instead just put a hand on his brother's shoulder, knowing regaining Sasuke's trust would be an exercise in delicacy.

"Take it easy. I'll find a way." Itachi was relieved that Sasuke accepted the brief contact but his smile was still forced under all the worry his promise carried with it. There might not be a peaceful way to get what Sasuke wanted. Itachi knew he shouldn't go making reckless promises now of all times, but he so badly wanted to do something right for his brother, just for once.

"Did you really…" Sasuke trailed off, then tried again. "Would you have killed our parents? If nothing had upset the plan?"

"Yes," Itachi sighed. "I would have had to do it. But it would have been quick and painless. It was not my intention to make any of our Clan members suffer. Although, since the moment never came, I'm not sure I could have gone through with any of it. My resolve might have disappeared, or I might have changed allegiances. Because it never happened, the possibilities are endless." Sasuke mulled over that for a minute.

"I see. When can I leave the hospital?"

Sasuke didn't really need to be in the hospital by this point. His minor ankle injury had healed fully a couple of days ago. The truth was Sasuke was being detained until it could be certain he was not hostile to Konoha. Tsunade had done Itachi the courtesy of cooping his brother up in a hospital room instead of a prison cell, but it was imprisonment nonetheless.

"Soon," Itachi promised. "Maybe tomorrow even." Sasuke's desire to destroy the village had thankfully disappeared, although it was clear he didn't exactly want to be part of it anymore. Itachi couldn't blame him; he too wanted some time apart from this place. There was too much tragedy for both of them here. "I'll need to go and speak with some people though. Are you going to be okay?"

"M' fine," Sasuke murmured, and began worrying at his nails again.

"Okay, and…" Itachi took a breath, wondering if it was wise to say this, "I love you." Would Sasuke say the same? There was no reply. Itachi walked to the door, pausing for just a moment on the threshold as Sasuke said,

"I don't hate you."

The next few days were hard on everyone.

Itachi visited Sasuke every day and his brother was beginning to relax around him again. But it was clear that Sasuke was growing restless, and Itachi was wondering if he really would go insane if he stayed in the Leaf village for too long.

Itachi enjoyed talking with his brother, even if the things they spoke of weren't exactly cheery. Sasuke would need to talk through the things that had happened and Itachi was the only person allowed to see him at that time.

Someone else Itachi was visiting every day was the Hokage, trying to convince her that Sasuke had no ill-intentions towards the village and to let him travel. Itachi said he would accompany his brother and could be counted on to keep Sasuke out of trouble.

"He's still a liability at this stage. And what message does it send to the other Shinobi, if I let someone who has defected go gallivanting off without so much as a second thought?" Tsunade and Itachi were almost sick of the sight of each other at the end of every day. More than anything though, they were both tired. Tired of trying to get things to run smoothly for once.

"Sasuke will only cause more trouble if he stays here right now," Itachi reasoned. "He needs time to heal, and as a medical ninja I trust you know how important that is."

"He can heal just fine inside the village. Itachi, please try and see this from my perspective," Tsunade reached for the bottle of sake she'd been keeping closer and closer to hand over the past couple of days. Itachi hated to press the woman so; she was an incredible warrior and leader, but Sasuke always had to come first. "I have just discovered that my predecessor, as well as three people I've closely worked with, were all part of the same genocidal plot. Knowing that my village has been upheld with mass murder hasn't exactly endeared me to it." Her voice had lost its usual bite. She took a long swallow of alcohol and leaned back into her chair. Itachi said,

"Even besides that, this village was sustained with blood. Everybody knows that history is not pretty, but we choose to ignore it because it happened so long ago and we like to think ourselves separated. The death of my clan…should never have happened. Not in this era."

Tsunade brought out a second cup and poured a little sake in, offering it to Itachi. He hesitated a moment, then accepted it. He wasn't usually one to drink, but the alcohol paved a satisfying road of fire down his throat. "Are you going to make the truth about my Clan public knowledge?" he asked.

"No. I'm sure you understand there are several selfish reasons for this, but I believe it is best to keep this buried. At least for now. What happened to the Uchiha was a tragedy, and that's all anyone needs to know."

Itachi nodded, understanding. Part of him was glad for this decision; he didn't want to become known as the man who plotted against his own blood, just as the Hokage didn't want to make the public aware that the Leaders had planned the murder of an entire Clan. Such news could inspire rebellions and riots. But it did mean more secrets. In time the people of the village may be ready to know the truth, so they could learn from it.

"I sometimes wonder if it would have been better if all of us had perished. Even Sasuke. Among the Uchiha there is an old belief that our Clan is cursed. It sounds stupid at first, as most think we are lucky to be born into a strong bloodline and to have the Sharingan. But every Uchiha lies on a precarious set of scales that tips fully one way or the other. At one end is love, and the other is hatred. So far Sasuke and I have avoided falling completely to the side of hatred. But the balance is ever perilous. Right now, Sasuke is in danger of choosing to live in hatred. And sometimes I don't think I would blame him, or that I might even join him. But I can promise you, that if you do me this favour, let us travel together, we will continue to serve the village."

"And if not? You'll both turn against the village?"

"That would be up to Sasuke. I'll follow whatever decision he makes."

Tsunade shook her head and downed the rest of her drink.

"That's some choice you've given me there. I could have you imprisoned for threatening me and the village."

"It's still your decision to make. I'm told you're a terrible gambler. Are you going to take a risk and hope Sasuke chooses not to condemn the village that has hurt him?" Itachi knew he had Tsunade when he appealed to her gambling habit. She thought a moment before slamming her empty glass on the desk.

"If you mess this up, give me any reason to think you're going to betray me…there won't be any more leniency, or even kindness. We'll hash out the details tomorrow. Get out of my sight now."

Itachi stood, bowed, and followed the order, unable to repress the good feeling he was getting. He didn't want to jinx things now.

Sasuke had been relieved of his imprisonment in the hospital and had spent the last day visiting his comrades and friends. He had gone alone to just outside the village to talk with Team Taka. Sasuke had wanted to offer them Leaf citizenship but Tsunade would hear none of it. Itachi had to agree with the Hokage; these ninja were too unreliable to let into the village. Team Taka had been loyal to Sasuke and he had been determined not to just dismiss them. So he gave them a mission that might prove their worth as trustworthy ninja. Sasuke asked them to visit every hideout of Orochimaru's and release his test subjects, as well as gathering various items and scrolls the man had stolen for himself and returning them.

Team Taka had accepted the task and set out immediately.

Itachi had been with him when he visited Naruto and Sakura. They had known Sasuke had returned to the village and, despite their persistence in the matter, had been denied to visit him while he had been in hospital.

They had arranged to meet at one of the training grounds Team 7 had frequented. Itachi had hung back a little while Sasuke approached his old Team, walking carefully, as if he were trying not to wake a sleeping tiger.

"Hello, Naruto. Hello, Sakura." Sasuke had looked desperately uncomfortable, not quite knowing how to greet his old comrades, and thought civility was the best way to go.

"Hello, Sasuke," they both returned the civility, and remained standing civilly together for two more seconds before they broke. Naruto and Sakura had charged towards Sasuke and crushed him in the longest hug.

"You're safe, I'm so glad you're safe and you're not hurt, I was so worried, you're here," Sakura babbled while Naruto was unable to decide whether to threaten Sasuke or soothe him:

"You stupid bastard, if you ever - you're home, it's okay now - I'll tie your wrists to your ankles to make sure you stay – I never stopped looking for you," and so on. Itachi had watched them be generally incoherent for a moment, before slipping away to let his brother have some private time with his old team. Eventually Kakashi arrived (late, as usual) so the whole squad was reunited.

Itachi had mediated a little farther away, although the Team's cry of dismay alerted him as to when Sasuke had broken the news that he was leaving the village the next day to travel. Itachi couldn't help but listen in at that point.

"I don't understand, aren't you glad to be back?" Sakura's voice was trembling.

"My brother and I just need to take some time away together. It's not forever; we'll be back again," Sasuke had told them.

"There's something you're not telling us." Kakashi wasn't asking, just stating the facts.

"Yes. You're not ready to know and I'm not ready to tell. Not right now." Kakashi seemed to accept it, but Naruto and Sakura were a little harder to quell after that. Luckily Kakashi was on Sasuke's side and managed to distract everyone (although mostly Naruto) by announcing he'd treat them all to ramen.

Itachi had left them to it. There wasn't anyone in the village he wanted to pay a last visit to. He meandered through the streets, wondering if this was the way of things: did people have to be sacrificed in order to build the foundation for others to live on? The principles of life revolved around death, it seemed. Animals ate each other, and carcasses fed the soil they rested in. Itachi suddenly thought of some people he would like to visit.

He took a path that led away from the main streets of Konoha and to a graveyard, where his family was laid to rest. His Father and Mother's graves were side-by-side, as they should be. Itachi had sometimes questioned how much love there had been between Mikoto and Fugaku. He had always supposed they must have loved each other to some extent because they had two children, but he'd never witnessed much affection passing between them. They'd always been side-by-side though.

"Hello, Father, Mother," Itachi mumbled quietly. There was no one else visiting the deceased but he still kept his voice to a hush. He sat down on the grass in front of the tombstones, the way he'd sat in the hall of his family home many times before, kneeling with his hands folded in his lap. "I know you may not be happy to see me, because I've let you down so much. I always wanted to do what was right. That's what I always tried. I'm not very good at it, though. Sometimes I don't know if there is a right. One man's fortune is another man's fall. Shisui taught me that…"

Itachi shook his head at himself and sighed.

"I know, if anything, you wanted me to look after Sasuke. I don't think I've done that very well. He's been hurt more times than anyone should be, and I caused some of that hurt. When he was little Sasuke was always very forgiving. He'd let me get away with terrible things, like that time we were late back from training together. It was all my fault; I had lost track of time and misplaced my weapons bag, but I had asked Sasuke not to tell you that, because I knew how disappointed you both would be. And when we got home, I told you that we were late because Sasuke had run off and I had to find him. You both scolded him and he went without dinner that night. Sasuke should have turned me in, but he let me get away with it. He was always too good."

He reached out to trace the words on his father's tombstone. The name, the dates, and who he was to the world. Clan Head, Husband and Father.

"I always kept things from Sasuke. Silly little things when were kids, like when the label was sticking out of his shirt. And then I wouldn't tell him about my missions, or about the coup, and I think my intentions were mostly good. It was because I wanted to protect Sasuke and keep him safe. But it was also because I couldn't face up to the side of myself that I didn't like. The Itachi that had murdered because a slip of paper told him to, and the side of me that had been about to go through with the genocide of his own Clan and then force Sasuke to watch."

Itachi scrubbed at his face.

"I'm probably the last person in this world that deserved a chance to undo my mistakes. And I'm also probably the last person in the world who should have refused that opportunity. But I think, for once, I may have done something right. I know it doesn't undo my mistakes but I hope you can forgive me, Father and Mother. I…am sorry."

There was no reply. Not a whisper of wind, or even a chirruping bird. There was no sign that his parents were here, listening. Itachi rose, and brushed stray blades of grass from his legs with shaky, jerky motions. He quickly walked away, feeling slightly queasy, heading to the ramen stand to meet with Sasuke.

He didn't see the two blackbirds standing side-by-side on a tree branch.

The next morning, just as the sun was blooming above the horizon, the two brothers stood together, facing the village gates. Sasuke had specifically asked his friends not to see them off. Officially, Itachi was a guard on this venture, meant to keep an eye on Sasuke and make sure he didn't betray the Leaf village. But Itachi wanted to do this as brothers, although Sasuke may not be ready to think of him as family again just yet.

"All set?" he inquired, since Sasuke had not made a move to exit the village.

"I was just thinking….the next time I see these gates, I'll have forgiven you."

"I understand if you don't forgive me…."

Sasuke shook his head.

"Holding grudges and continuing to hate you doesn't make anything better. But if I forgive you, I will have a family again. It's still going to take a little bit of time, but I'm working towards it." Sasuke turned towards Itachi and showed him a rare smile. "Just have a little more patience with me for now."

Itachi laughed, a little breathlessly.

"I've practiced building up a lot of patience when it comes to you, little brother," Itachi said, nudging him slightly.

"Let's go." The two stepped outside the village and began their travels. They set out as companions, but by the time they were ready to return, they were brothers once again.

The End

Hooray, the second fic I've finished! I can honestly say that writing this has been a pleasure, and part of that is due to the wonderful reviews everyone has left. So a big thank you to everyone who has reviewed, and also to those who have followed or favourited this.

Thank you to jmtothemusic,Elunakin,Fictionnloverr, CherishRedemption and Guest for reviewing last chapter.

jmtothemusic: Thank you, I'm glad I wrote Team Taka right! I hope you enjoy the final chapter and thank you for all the reviews

Elunakin: Thank you! That makes me so happy!

Fictionnloverr: Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it

CherishRedemption: Haha, thank you and hopefully this chapter doesn't disappoint!

Guest: Thank you! Happy reading!

I hope everyone has enjoyed the final instalment. I know there are loose ends, but we can all assume that Team Taka did get admission to the Leaf Village, the brothers willingly swapped eyes so they didn't end up blind, Sasuke removed Orochimaru's curse mark with Itachi's help and that they finally got some happiness.

I currently have no plans to write any more fictions for Naruto. I may attempt a Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan) fic in the future as that is another favourite series of mine. But until then,

Thanks for reading,