He can still remember the way that Itachi would smile, those few times he smiled. He can remember wrapping his skinny arms around Itachi's pale neck and pressing his cheek against the rough shirt, feeling his brother's muscles under scarred skin move. He loved being carried around, and his father never had time. Itachi would carry him, though, every time he was too tired to move himself.
Itachi played with him, once, Sasuke remembers. Sasuke had been scolded for something silly and childish, and Itachi had entered his room, where he'd been crying hoarsely. His brother had smiled at him, a sad smile, and then sat next to him, telling him stories until he was smiling, too, and then Itachi had pulled him out of the corner behind the bed and out of the room.
They'd run down to the river, and Itachi had shown him how to catch frogs. Something else that was stupid and silly, and when they're returned home, muddy and wet and late, his father had railed on Itachi. Playing with his younger brother? Wasteful. Shirking his duties? Disgraceful. Itachi never played with Sasuke after that night.
Sasuke still doesn't hate his brother. How can he, hate someone who's everyone and everything to him? And so he's standing over Itachi's body, now at the edge between childhood and adulthood, the edge between hating someone and loving them, and Orochimaru's laughing, insanely, in the background. Itachi's eyes are closed, the red eyes that scared Sasuke as a child, and Sasuke can pretend that they're still the dark eyes that used to shine when Itachi smiled those sad, few times so many years ago. He shuffles his feet, watching with fascination as the blood mixes with the dust and dirt, making it a dark red mud, and he remembers frogs and a river and coming home late at night, his cheek pressed against Itachi's back.
"How can you not hate him," Orochimaru goads on from behind, long tongue slithering around the words. "How can you still love him, after all he's done?"
Sasuke doesn't hate Itachi, doesn't hate him and doesn't love him and he's so lost, so lost and confused. He stares at Itachi's closed eyes, the lines beneath them, and remembers his mother scolding Itachi for not eating enough. He remembers dangos and stars at night, soft stories and infrequent hugs, angry screams and pained laughter. He remembers...
"Because he's my brother."
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