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Summary: Chaos stirs as Uchiha Sasuke switches places at the worst possible time. A Road to Ninja story.
Rating: T (Contains violence and swearing.)
The purpose of a fortress as is straightforward as it is old—keep the enemy at bay. To this end, people over the centuries have employed dozens of strategies, including stake-filled pits, crocodile moats, high stone walls, archer towers, higher stone walls, porticos, and spiked metal gates among other things.
This fortress, however, was different. It invited the enemy. Beckoned to them. Come, it seemed to murmur. I have walls, but they will not keep you out. I have a gate, but it is not barred shut. I am yours to claim, if you have the courage to do so.
But deception lurked just beneath the surface of a gilded invitation.
Just as a crocodile seems unassuming at first, much like a log floating by the water's edge, the fortress held a sinister purpose.
While most fortresses were barriers in the purest sense of the word, working to keep the enemy out, this one was different. It was hungry. Every hallway bristled with traps, every room a potential tomb. Death lurked under pressure-sensitive plates on the floor and in still-functioning trip wire. If someone lucky enough to dodge one ticket to hell, they were probably stumbling right into the jaws of another.
Such was to be expected from the former stronghold of a major ninja clan.
As the unwary intruder is lured in, he is drawn into a winding path. A maze in the broken, vine-infested halls of stone. Spikes from the walls laid in wait and swinging man-traps eagerly anticipated the life-blood of their next victim.
However, Uchiha Sasuke was far from the unwary, helpless intruder.
With his eyes, he easily saw and dismantled any danger to his person before it so much as had a chance to spring at him. Strong and lithe at the age of sixteen, he danced around anything that came his way with a lethal grace, neutralizing the traps one after another.
His gaze narrowed as he realized those villagers were right. This place used to belong to his clan. The Uchiha fan was there on the walls, and it was fresh. His eyes narrowed. Was someone masquerading as an Uchiha? As far as he knew, all of his clan lived in Konoha.
Turning from the sigil of the Uchiha, Sasuke continued through the rest of the fortress,
He walked through a massive doorway twelve feet wide and twenty feet tall, the doors themselves long since gone. He had no idea what lurked in the dark corners, what hid in the places where light failed to reach, and he had no idea who presumed to use this fortress under the guise of an Uchiha. His senses were on overdrive, rapidly scanning his surroundings for any potential threats.
Absently, he registered the hideous state of disrepair. The stone walls were crumbling, cracks crept across the floor, and the local flora was slowly but surely reclaiming its lost territory. At one point a family of ducks waddled through the hallway right in front of him, stopping for a moment to quack at him, then continuing off to wherever it was that they were going.
Gods, this place was a mess.
The place was built like a maze to maximize opportunities for ambushes. The shinobi part of Sasuke's mind was imagining the possibilities of traps triggered by stone floors, of ambushes lurking in the dark corners. The rest of his mind was annoyed that he had to deal with the maze in the first place.
Sasuke's frown deepened as he took a right turn—the only turn—and ended up in what appeared to be a throne room of sorts, with decorative symbols adorning the walls.
His face screwed up in confusion sight of the person occupying the throne itself.
"Itachi? What are you doing here?"
Itachi said nothing, his expression—or lack thereof—not giving a hint of emotion away.
Sasuke groaned, palm covering his face in exasperation. "Don't tell me mother sent you to find me again. I swear, I've told her a million times that I can take care of myself! Father agrees with me!"
Itachi only tilted his head: a strange, birdlike motion.
Sasuke winced. "I know, I know, I should be more careful." He chuckled sheepishly before gesturing towards the exit with a tilt of his head. "We can get home before dinner if we hurry."
Itachi opened his mouth, then closed it, apparently struck speechless.
Sasuke took the opportunity to look around. "What is this place?" he asked. "It's falling apart! I saw our clan's symbol on the walls outside, though. Did this fortress really belong to the Uchiha?"
He looked back at his brother, and stopped dead in his tracks. "Brother, what's with that look on your face?"
Sasuke felt a chill creep up on him from behind.
"And . . ."
Why is your Sharingan activated?
His mouth felt dry, and for some reason the hair on the back of his neck stood on end.
"Brother, are we in trouble?" Sasuke dropped into a crouch, rapidly scanning the throne room for any threats. There was nothing but dust, rocks, and his older brother. Still, his hand drifted towards his lower back into his shuriken pouch.
"No. We are alone."
Sasuke looked up. That was the first time his brother had spoken this entire time, but it was with a tone that he had never heard before. Cold, callous, and biting.
There was definitely something wrong.
"Brother?" Sasuke tightened his fingers around five shuriken, his hand still in the pouch.
He met Itachi's eyes with his own, and the man burst into a murder of crows.
Uchiha Sasuke found that man waiting in a very different place than he had imagined.
It was not some out-of-the-way fortress, it was not some secluded forest glade; it was in the middle of the bustling city of Tanzaku Gai. And he was sipping tea of all things, nonchalantly lounging in a small restaurant while the waitress asked if he'd like anything else.
What was he plotting? Why would Itachi be here?
Sasuke tightened his grip on the snake-sword at his waist, slightly drawing it out of its sheath to be removed at a moment's notice.
Slowly, he walked forward, his every step cautious and calculated. It was a busy street, packed with vendors and shoppers, but people took one look at the sword at his hip and his murderous gaze before they scrambled to get out of the way, watching from the edges of the street. He had quite the audience by the time he finally reached Itachi. He came to a stop at the table where the man was now calmly sliding some dango off of its stick with his teeth.
Itachi looked up, and did something that completely threw Sasuke off guard. He smiled.
"Ah, little brother. What a surprise to see you here. Why don't you join me for some tea and a small snack?"
Sasuke didn't know what to say, didn't know how to react to this murderer smiling at him, inviting him to eat together. His fury railed inside of him, begging to tear at this man that so mocked him. What, did Itachi actually want to drink tea? To 'discuss their relationship issues' over sticks of dango? The very thought made Sasuke's blood burn. How dare Itachi mock him so, and all the lives he took! How dare he calmly drink and eat with the same hands that—
Abruptly, one of his oldest memories surfaced in the back of his mind.
He and his mother were walking home from the market, their arms laden with groceries (and in Sasuke's case, tomatoes). They talked, they joked, they teased and they laughed. Sasuke and his mother were happy.
Then they came home to blood and death and the horror of murder. Sasuke threw open the door to his house, only to find his father's throat slashed out.
No! Nononono! How could this be happening?! How could—
"Foolish little brother."
Sasuke turned, and saw Itachi press a blade to their mother's throat.
His eyes widened. "Nii-san, what are you—"
"Sasuke," his mother interrupted, her terror plain on her face. "Run! Run and don't look back! He'll kill you if you don't!"
Sasuke was about to protest, when hot blood sprayed all over his face.
He felt his world fall apart when his mother slumped to the floor, her throat gleaming with a red smile.
Itachi looked at her corpse dispassionately. "You should have listened to her," he said. Then he turned, and his eyes glowed in the moonlight. "But I'm glad you didn't. You saved me the trouble of hunting you down."
He took a step forward, and Sasuke stumbled back, desperate to get away.
Sasuke stared, and the image of his mother's body lingered, her throat mercilessly slashed open.
Her voice rang through his mind like some terrible bell.
Itachi frowned when his brother didn't move, simply staring at him. "Sasuke," he said. "Is something wrong?"
Then Itachi saw the half-drawn sword, the unfamiliar clothes, and the lack of Konoha's headband. He grew cautious.
"Sasuke, what troubles you?"
The younger Uchiha chose that moment to attack.
His eyes flared red, and dozens of shuriken screamed through the air.
Sasuke stumbled back as crows burst forth from all around: black, loud, and with blood-red eyes.
"Brother," Sasuke called, "what is this?!"
He couldn't see anything, and all noise was drowned out by this wretched cawing. Panicking, Sasuke called forth the vaunted power of his clan.
He watched as one by one, the crows dissolved into thin air. Sasuke narrowed his eyes. 'Genjutsu?'
When the last had vanished, he turned. Uchiha Itachi sat regally on his throne, his expression rivaling a statue's in terms of showing emotion.
Sasuke tensed, and a bead of sweat trickled down from his forehead. "Nii-san?" The centuries-old walls of the fortress seemed to smother his voice.
Itachi looked down at him, his chin resting on his hand. "That Sharingan. How much can it really see?"
His voice. So cold.
Sasuke swallowed and took a hesitant step forward. "Brother, what's—"
He stopped talking as Itachi literally vanished from his seat of power.
"You know, Sasuke," Itachi said. Sasuke nearly flinched in shock: the man was right behind him. "I had hoped for better from you. On that night, I told you to embrace your hatred and do everything to obtain power. But here you stand, empty of your hatred, and weak."
'What? What is he—'
A voice seemed to whisper in the cold, stagnant air.
Run. Run and don't look back.
Itachi's hand flashed with steel and he spun around, intent on driving his kunai through his brother's neck. Sasuke stumbled back, utterly shocked that his brother was actually attacking him. He barely managed to avoid the death blow by leaning backwards like a tree swaying in the wind, his feet firmly rooted to the floor.
Itachi was not fazed. He followed through immediately, lashing out with a kick that Sasuke caught with both forearms, causing him to be thrown across the room and slammed into the wall hard enough to leave a small crater in the stone.
He slumped to the floor with a gasp as the wind was completely knocked out of him.
"I honestly thought you'd be stronger. Did you really run off to train with Orochimaru and come back empty-handed? And not only that, you come to me speaking of impossible and naïve delusions."
'What? That doesn't make any sense! That never happened! And what delusions?!'
"Itachi . . ." Sasuke gritted his teeth. "What the hell do you think you're doing?! What makes you think you can just attack me out of the blue, huh?!" He looked up, red eyes whirling in defiance. "If you keep this up, don't think I won't fight back!"
The look Itachi sent Sasuke's way at that moment could only be described as utter contempt. "Foolish little brother. Do you think an enemy would simply wait for you to prepare yourself? Do you really think that I will allow you the time to prepare when you've so brazenly stepped into my den?"
Sasuke blinked, then stood on shaky legs. "Brother, what is this about? Why are you—"
He was cut off as Itachi rushed up to him, kunai palmed in each hand. He slashed, and Sasuke had no choice but to block with his own kunai, lest he lose his throat. Itachi smiled, reversed his grip on his blades, and whirled. Sasuke was forced on the defensive, desperately evading and deflecting strikes aimed for his neck, throat, and eyes. During the furious exchange, he saw an opening and grabbed Itachi's arm, forcing him to stop in his assault.
Itachi did stop, but only with his arms. Using Sasuke as a platform, his legs catapulted up with a tremendous force. Sasuke had to duck under it. When he did, Itachi slipped out of his grip like a wraith, landing feet-first on the ceiling and hanging there like a bat. Sasuke looked up, Itachi looked down, and steel met steel as the two brothers fought each other from the ceiling and the floor, jumping between the two as easily as they'd use stones to cross a creek.
Shuriken fell like rain, each one meeting another with a deadly clash of bright gold sparks. Neither relented in their assault, because hesitation at a time like this would almost certainly mean death.
After several minutes of throwing, dodging, and deflecting, both Uchiha ran out of shuriken.
Back to square one.
Sasuke panted, glaring all the while. "What are you playing at? Why are you attacking me?"
Itachi looked completely unaffected by the recent exchange, his breath even and not a hair out of place. He tilted his head to the side, as though Sasuke was some sort of fascinating insect he'd never seen before. "How strange," he murmured. "All of that hatred, hatred that I've cultivated for years. Where has it all gone?"
'Hatred? What hatred?!'
"What are you—" He trailed off and stared as Itachi's Sharingan slowly stretched, the tomoes reaching for both the border of the irises and the pupil.
"It seems that I must remind you," Itachi said. "I will force you to see the strength that hatred offers."
Sasuke's eyes widened, and he broke into a cold sweat.
Run! Run and don't look back!
The voice was screaming at him now, the sound ringing in his ears over and over again. And he wanted to. Oh, he desperately wanted to run, but he couldn't move. It felt like something was pinning him to the floor. Some kind of pressure, like the weight of the very sky had come crashing down on his head.
The world stopped spinning when Itachi grinned.
His voice was winter.
A world away, Tanzaku Gai ground to a halt as shuriken flew all over. The deadly flying stars tore into stalls, burrowing deep into the wooden frames. The ground was littered with shinobi steel within the span of a heartbeat.
There was a moment of absolute silence as everyone stared at the source: a young, dark-haired man with eyes that glowed like a demon's. Facing him was the famous Uchiha Itachi, a member of the mercenary group known as Akatsuki.
Slowly, the details began to sink into the minds of the onlookers.
Someone was confident enough to challenge Uchiha Itachi.
Someone was confident enough to challenge Uchiha Itachi here.
There was a beat as everyone finally realized what that meant; if they got in the way, they would almost certainly die.
"Move it! Move it!"
"Shut up and get out of my way!"
Parents grabbed their children, vendors grabbed their money and whatever wares they could carry, and regular shoppers simply dropped everything but their purses and hightailed it out of there.
The entire street was cleared in roughly twenty seconds.
Throughout that time, Sasuke glared down at Itachi who had somehow managed to deflect every single shuriken while seated.
"What do you think you're doing, Sasuke? What do you seek to accomplish by attacking me?"
Sasuke started at the question and stared at Itachi in incredulity, at the honest confusion in Itachi's voice. He laughed a bitter, bitter laugh. So Itachi would try to screw with his head now? Right when he had him cornered like a rat?
"What do I seek to accomplish, Itachi? Is that not obvious?"
Itachi frowned at the pure murder in Sasuke's tone. "Not entirely. I ask that you explain the meaning behind your actions just now. Vandalism is frowned upon."
Vandalism? Vandalism? Someone who murdered his entire family had the nerve to talk about vandalism? Sasuke wanted to laugh, to shove this bastard's words down his throat, but he took a deep, shaky breath instead. "I've waited for ten years, done nothing but train, nothing but hate."
"Sasuke, what are you—"
Chakra surged, and Itachi's words died in his throat.
"I've abandoned my village—"
It ignited, lighting Sasuke's face with an angry blue glare.
"—and stolen Orochimaru's power—"
It focused to a razor-sharp edge.
"—all so that I could finally kill you!"
A thousand birds sang.
Itachi's eyes widened and his mouth fell open. He jumped out of his seat and backed away.
And Sasuke rushed forth, his hand wreathed in a lightning blade.
Author's Note: Who do you think will cause the most damage? Canon!Sasuke, or RtN!Sasuke? And why?