"This is my life, this is eternal
How Did I ever end up here?"
(Afi, But Home Is Nowhere)
They say that nature will always find a way.
After the end of the war flowers keep blooming like nothing happened even if the light is fainter, filtered from the tall branches of the Shinju tree, now grown into a forest spread all over the world.
Animals keep hunting and being hunted but their steps are muffled by the grayish woolly material that falls on the ground like leaves in autumn.
The wild beasts' cries are replaced by an eerie silence, as if everyone lost their voice.
Everything is silent.
Madara won; against death, against humanity.
In his world there will be no more wars, no more discrimination.
Every human being is tucked into a gray cocoon tethered to the trees, dreaming of living the life they always dreamt of.
Everyone is in the best of worlds now, no longer tied to unwanted duties or people, finally free to be a hero, a ruler, a genius, an object of desire, regardless of their status and abilities.
The Uchiha patriarch got rid of all the past Kage but Hashirama, his best friend and rival, the strongest, once, when he didn't have a seal in his head that could be rewritten in case of rebellion.
He brought Izuna back from the dead, wanting the one who gave him his eyes to see the world he finally created.
To his utmost surprise Izuna is not thrilled as he expected.
His younger brother lived in a long gone past. He was ignorant of many things.
He knew hard work to reach perfection. He knew loyalty and sacrifice.
He knew war and hunger and pain and death.
He didn't know forbidden jutsu or magic trees.
To him this world doesn't make sense. To him Madara doesn't make sense either.
Izuna willingly sacrificed for him; the elder was the most important asset in the clan's struggle for a supremacy that would have brought peace.
Besides, brothers must protect each other.
Third of five sons, it was in his nature to care about his siblings.
Sometimes he felt like his existence wasn't his own. That he didn't even exist as a person.
He belonged to the clan. He belonged to his brothers.
Their pain was his pain. Their victories were his victories.
Because of his disposition his mother made him promise to him to look after the family if something happened to her.
That moment arrived too soon, when she died giving birth.
Their father was too stricken with grief to think about the newborn. Their brothers were not interested in the one who had stolen their mother's life.
Despite being just a child Izuna was the only one who cared for the little one whose only fault was to exist.
He learnt everything he could from elderly clanswomen. He fed, cleaned and dressed the baby, staying awake all night when he had fever, teaching him how to read and use weapons, turning a shivering little bundle into a healthy child despite the hardships.
In the clan he was known as Nanashi, 'no name', since no one bothered to give him one.
Eventually that epithet stuck to him.
One day they headed to the battlefield; when they returned, their village had been devastated.
Half of the population had been killed, including elders and children.
Seeing his little brother's body in a puddle of dried blood, hands clutching the kunai Izuna had given him, eyes missing, for he was already food for crows, was more painful than anything he ever witnessed.
He felt sick, then dizzy, then everything went black.
When he returned to his senses something slick and warm was flowing on his cheek.
He had obtained Mangekyou Sharingan.
Madara too obtained it that day, at the sight of all the innocent people died in a vile ambush.
Madara's Mangekyou Sharingan was far more important than his own.
Izuna was not the hope for the clan. Not that he minded. He preferred supporting, not leading.
He supported Madara with admiration and brotherly love, especially when everyone else died and there remained just the two of them.
Izuna never understood how his older, stronger brother, whom everyone aspired to be like, could have befriended a Senju, the same clan that had killed their brothers.
He couldn't stand Hashirama's presence. Not even now that his clan won.
As if this was a real victory. What is the point of ruling over a world where everyone is asleep?
Because of his reluctance to accept the new world Madara assigned him to guard their base.
As if someone could wake up.
They used mokuton to erect a circular structure around the original Shinju tree.
The entrance is located at ground level; in the hollowed out trunk carved stairs lead to the multiple levels that encompass the branches almost up to the tallest ones.
Everyone has private quarters.
Madara chose to keep Hashirama close. To Izuna it was not unexpected.
Besides, he likes being alone. He never had such luxury when he was alive and they all slept in tents or in the open, ready to fight back should the enemy attack.
Before their village was destroyed he slept in the same room with all his brothers.
He always slept on his side, keeping Nanashi safe in his embrace.
Among the many unused rooms in their wooden facility there is a laboratory -that serves no purpose –and a temple, a large space with an altar to the ancient gods that their clan used to worship before they adopted the Senju's Will of Fire as a sign of peace and union.
It was easy for Madara to give up on their cult; he had never been a believer.
For Izuna it was different. The names of their gods, the rituals they performed, were not just empty acts of devotion. They were part of his memory, they reminded him of their mother.
There is a protruding branch that crosses half the room, from which four cocoons are hanging.
Three are very close: they are Senju descendants, Madara explained him.
The other one is tethering from the lower edge, almost touching the floor.
Inside there is the last Uchiha alive; a hot-headed rebel with no loyalty towards his name.
His brother had no choice but to stab him.
He would have died if a comrade hadn't healed him, right before the Infinite Tsukuyomi activated.
Madara had chosen this man as Izuna's vessel.
Seeing him crouched over a young, dying one, reminded him of a long time ago, when the same brother he wanted to bring back was hopelessly trying to save their youngest sibling.
Life has never been so bland.
Followed by Hashirama, Madara comes and goes.
He seems to enjoy owning the endless gray-white forest growing as far as the eye can see, so much that Izuna stops looking outside.
The special people in the temple are his only company.
Not having seen anyone from this era he wonders what the people inside them look like.
The curiosity is so strong that he cracks the cocoons open. Just a little rip to catch a glimpse of their faces.
There is a middle aged woman, a red-haired girl wearing spectacles and a blond boy.
They don't resemble any Senju he encountered.
When he tears the last one open he is utterly careful. There's family there.
The homogeneity of Uchiha people's appearance hasn't changed.
Their facial shape is similar, although Izuna's lips are fuller.
They have similar hair, but his are long and tied in a low ponytail while this boy's are shorter.
Overall he doesn't see the striking resemblance Madara talked about.
Madara never understood him anyway.
Those thinner lips, those high cheekbones, those ruffled, spiky hair, that bluish-white skin remind him of Nanashi.
The temple room is the only place where Izuna hears human voices, even though it's the faint and broken slur of those who sleep.
The Uchiha boy is the calmest one. At times he opens his mouth but makes no sound.
As if what he wants to express can't be said.
There is only one word that comes out of his lips.
A word Izuna knows well.
A word that comes back to haunt Izuna's heart with sweet and painful memories and fill his mind with questions. Would Nanashi be pale and lithe as this boy? Would his hair be still short or would he let them grow like his older brothers? Would his voice be similar to the one he is growing more and more accustomed to, each time he says 'niisan'?
Izuna estimates that his descendant is approximately five years younger than him.
Just like Nanashi.
It's only natural to be curious, he tells himself as he cracks the cocoon open a little more, moving carefully so that the vital support provided by the tree won't be interrupted.
There is nothing that a trained sharingan can't do, his father used to say.
It's true: Izuna is easily able to open the boy's eye and see.
Peace and tranquility. A house. A family. A brother.
His name is Sasuke but his features, his voice, his personality, everything is identical to Nanashi.
Betrayal, fear, death.
An Uchiha –his beloved older brother –destroyed the clan he was destined to guide.
He can't even imagine Nanashi in Sasuke's position, all alone, surviving his clan, betrayed by the one he trusted most.
Would Nanashi have become stronger with the sole purpose of destroying him or he would have moved on?
Would his little brother have killed him as well?
Despair, longing, an all-consuming rage.
His brother loved him all along. He protected him just like he had protected Nanashi.
Sasuke chose to avenge Itachi, all alone against the world. Nanashi would have done the same.
An encounter that changes everything. Love and a faint hope that only lasts for a moment.
Sasuke met Itachi in Edo Tensei form. He didn't care if he was dead. He only wanted to be with him.
Izuna hates his Edo Tensei form. He hates his unnaturally colored eyes and the dulled senses.
Seeing how Sasuke didn't even notice his brother's monster-like characteristics makes him feel worthy and human again.
The last thing he sees in Sasuke's memories is Madara's frame.
How ironic that the last person he saw before dying was the same one.
Izuna doesn't like the grayish foggy light of the outside world.
He doesn't like its dull mockery of life.
A life that looks like death, something he is familiar with.
He has been dead for too long that he has become death.
The boy is life instead; a dark, passionate fire.
A fire that burns too close to his dead skin.
He just doesn't see the resemblance with Sasuke that even Hashirama talked about.
There both lived in the shadow of a stronger sibling but Izuna could have surpassed him. He just decided to maintain the clan's traditions.
They both lived for their older brother, for whom they were ready to sacrifice everything, but for Izuna it was duty. If he could have chosen, if Nanashi wouldn't have died, he would have sacrificed for him, instead of bestowing his strength to someone who preferred to join forces with the enemy instead of defeating them.
Both were loyal, but Izuna's loyalty was for the clan and Sasuke's was for just one, who left him alone, telling him lies to keep him safe, feeding him hate to make him stronger.
Izuna knows what it's like to lose his most important person.
He knows even better what it's like to protect him.
The pain never left him; he just buried it under his sense of duty, devoting himself to the other siblings, until only Madara remained for him to sacrifice for.
The seed of an idea, from the back of Izuna's mind, grows bigger and stronger the more he thinks about it, until he can't let go of it anymore.
Sasuke is Nanashi's reincarnation.
Therefore, Itachi was his reincarnation.
Their soul is the same. Both selfless, both sacrificial, both willing to do anything to protect their brothers, Izuna reflects, finally feeling like he has a purpose.
Dreams reveal the dreamer's true self, untainted by the struggles and compromises that reality forces to face.
There is no technique for connecting to someone nested in a cocoon, dreaming.
The only thing Izuna knows for certain is that life support is provided by a thin branch inserted to the base of the neck.
He finds Sasuke's sword and memorizes his lingering residuals of its owner. His sharingan and his perfect chakra control do the rest.
Sasuke's dream world is the transparent future he imagined as a child: peace, a village to belong, a prosper clan, a happy family.
No massacre, no revenge, no revolution.
Being appointed in the Police Force. His father, the chief, finally proud of him.
Itachi leaving Anbu. The two brothers finally working together as a team.
No Uchiha supremacy, no war.
The same thing that Nanashi would have dreamt.
Izuna didn't have the freedom to envision something so simple and at the same time so complicated.
He knew how different reality was so he only allowed himself to think about what was needed instead of what he wanted.
He didn't even know what he wanted; instead, he knew that the Uchiha victory would mean ending the war. Sacrificing for the clan meant sacrificing for peace.
Izuna saw Sasuke's memories of Itachi. He, too, dreamt nothing but peace, until everything changed.
If Izuna had been in Itachi's place, having to choose between the clan and Nanashi's life, he too would have chosen to keep his little brother alive and safe and pure, no matter what he had to endure.
He can't help but acknowledge that his nature hasn't changed with his rebirth.