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Itachi Uchiha
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Registration date : 2007-06-26

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Name: Itachi Uchiha
Age: 18
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PostSubject: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 1:54 pm

When I was three I remember a neighbor telling my mother that I was an old soul in a child’s body. Given the hindsight of an adult, I doubt the old man meant it entirely as a joke. I was a serious child. My mother told me time and time again that from the moment I was born I smiled only at the strangest of things. I never laughed at the odd faces adults make for infants, or at the gifts my relatives lavished upon me. But I laughed whenever my father spoke to me.

“He’s mocking you, Uchiha-san,” a friend once told my father.

“Of course not!” my father insisted, grasping me firmly beneath my arms and lifting me deftly above his head. “My child is full of life, and he knows it.”

Then he would lower me with his strong arms and set me back on my feet.

“You love Chichi-ue, don’t you?” he would say to me softly, as if to keep it secret from everyone else. “My Itachi.”

Did I love him? Maybe I did. Not that it matters.

Even before I learned to walk, I began running away. I crawled onto the porch, or into the small garden in the courtyard behind our house. My parents worried, but they needn’t have. I wasn’t the sort of infant to reach for everything in sight and put it in my mouth. No; I was a watcher. Instead of crawling out into the street where I might’ve been stepped on, I sat on the porch and stared with avid fascination at the passers-by. When they found me, my parents would lift me into their arms and clasp me to them fiercely, alternately scolding and proclaiming their relief.

But my father was also proud of my curiosity.

“He’s so eager to see what’s going on in the village,” he would claim proudly over dinner with my uncles. “Already my child Itachi knows his place.”

But I didn’t want to see what was happening. My frank child’s eyes showed me the truth of that. What I wondered as I watched them pass me by was “Why?” Why did the men and women carry weapons while their children ran laughing through the streets? Why did some laugh, while others wept or wore faces grim as death? Of course, my mind couldn’t form these questions into words at so young an age, but the questions were there nonetheless. I didn’t learn to speak properly until I was nearly three years old. Speech just wasn’t important to me when I was busy drinking the world in through my eyes.

But once I began to speak, and to join the other children in their games, I began to hear the word “genius” used often around me. Though small, I was the strongest of the Uchiha children---except for Shisui, who was four years older than me and could move so fast his body blurred. I was aware that people were beginning to call me “genius,” and from the very first I didn’t like it. I was a boy, not a word. But the adults who saw the way I watched things and who listened to what I had to say always began to refer to that genius Itachi, and not to me.

“I’m right here,” I would insist, planting myself in front of them when they spoke that way. “I’m Itachi.” And they’d laugh and lavish me with affection, thinking that was what I wanted.

I wasn’t really certain what I wanted at that point---maybe something worthwhile to do to distract me from the endless chorus of “Why? Why? Why?” in my head.

Just two years after I mastered speech there was talk of sending me to school. And it wasn’t just any school, but the Konoha Academy itself. My family wanted me to skip the preliminary school and enroll directly, though this would put me in with classmates twice my age. I wasn’t sure what to make of this notion, but if it was something new I was willing to try. My enrollment at the age of five was an unusual request, but my parents were strongly adamant about it. I’d learned to read and write soon after learning to speak, and in that sense I was already beyond the level of those entering the preliminary school. My father in particular saw great potential in me, and he wanted me to learn the ninja’s trade as soon as possible. My precocious strength excited him, because I think that even then he foresaw the day when I would surpass him. All fathers, I suppose, wish for their children to surpass them. But I think they also secretly fear it, for never is the waning of age so apparent to a man’s eyes as when he bears witness to the waxing of youth.

Perhaps I am an old soul . . . Not that it matters.

The request for my premature enrollment in Konoha’s ninja academy was apparently such an anomaly that it required the highest consideration. The Hokage himself came to visit our house, along with several of my uncles, who were men of particular influence both in the Uchiha Clan and in Konoha’s policing force. The day the Hokage came I was sitting in the garden by myself, crouched by the little stream that ran through its center and utterly absorbed. My parents had left me to myself for a bit while they discussed their proposal with the others, and I was content to let them, because even if I had attended it wasn’t as if they were going to talk to me.

So I sat bent over the stream, playing. I’d made a game of darting my hand into the water and withdrawing it as quickly as possible without making ripples. I wasn’t aware of the Hokage’s presence behind me until he quite deliberately stepped on a stick.

I half-turned and saw a young man with yellow hair and very sharp blue eyes standing there. He wasn’t what I’d been expecting. Having only seen the Hokage from afar and in ceremonial dress, I’d pictured him as an older man, with dark hair like the Uchiha and a far more impressive stature. This man was of medium height, and looked as if he were at least ten years younger than my father. He smiled warmly at me, but he was obviously here to study me and see if I really was that genius Itachi. I didn’t return the smile.

“What are you doing?” he asked me, kneeling down beside me on the gray flagstones bordering the stream.

I returned my attention to my dripping hand, which I still held poised above the water. Suddenly my game seemed childish to me, and I wished he hadn’t caught me at it. I was unnerved by his presence because I didn’t think a Hokage should be sitting beside me on the ground when he was so much more powerful. But he seemed to be waiting patiently for my answer, so I replied, “Testing myself.”

This elicited a laugh from him, and I stared at him in surprise. His whole face seemed to flash when he laughed, like a mirror catching the sun.

“Oh, I see,” he chuckled. “Well, then I suppose I don’t need to test you. But why are you testing yourself? Are you worried about being allowed into school?”

I shook my head, looking down again.

“I want to know what I can do,” I told him solemnly. “I don’t care how strong other people think I am.”

He smiled at me again, but this time it was a quiet smile, and his gaze was thoughtful.

“That’s very wise, Itachi-kun,” he told me, and once again I looked at him in surprise. The Hokage was looking at me as if he truly understood me, which I found comforting and unnerving at the same time. “Can you show me?” he asked, gesturing toward the water. Mutely, I nodded.

Then I bent over the stream and demonstrated how I could cut through the water’s surface by wielding my hand like a blade, leaving only the faintest of disturbances. The Hokage seemed duly impressed, but he didn’t praise me for it. Instead he said, “I’ve heard that you don’t speak much. But you are very gifted, Itachi-kun, and you must not be afraid to tell people what you’re thinking.”

I knew then what it was that he’d been discussing with my parents at such length.

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Itachi Uchiha
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Name: Itachi Uchiha
Age: 18
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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 1:54 pm

Not two days beforehand my mother had told me she was going to have another child. I wasn’t sure what she expected of me, but I was interested. I asked her why mothers wanted to give birth to children.

She smiled gently at me and said, “Because we love them.”

I frowned at her. “But what’s the reason?”

She pulled me into her embrace, saying only, “Children are born to be loved,” to which my only response was to nod seriously.

I could see she was troubled by this.

“Are you happy, Itachi?” she asked unexpectedly.

I blinked in bemusement.

“I don’t know,” was my final answer.

A child at the time, I didn’t understand what it was she wanted. But somehow, because of something I had or hadn’t said, I’d made her unhappy. This, in turn, troubled me, because it was something I didn’t understand. But later I learned that this was why she’d suddenly begun to share my father’s adamancy about my enrolling early in the academy. She felt I was too “isolated,” and that I needed to “interact with others more.” She was worried.

And I was confused, because I’d made her worry.

I realized the Hokage wasn’t there that day to test my skills. He was there to see if I were really as worrisome as my parents claimed. Wanting to please him, I answered, “I want to go to school. I want to learn new things, and to understand other people. That’s what I think.”

He gazed at me in silence for a moment; a silence broken only by the babbling of the brook. Then he laughed again, flashing the sun’s brightness in my earnest little face.

“Uchiha Itachi, if only all our students wanted to learn so badly,” he told me. “Konoha would be full to the brim with Jounin.”

I was very young then, and eager to please; especially the Yondaime, who spoke to me and not that genius, and whom I, like other children my age, had always idolized because of the stories we’d heard of him. I thought the academy might really give me the answers to my why’s, and I told him so in so many words. He grew more serious then, and laid a firm hand on my shoulder.

“The Uchiha bloodline carries great responsibility,” he said, “because it’s so powerful. But there’s a difference between being powerful and being strong, Itachi-kun. A powerful man asks, ‘What can I do?’ A strong man asks, ‘What can I do for others?’ When you begin learning a ninja’s arts, you are accepting the possibility that you may die defending the ones you’re obligated to protect.”

I stared at him, and my mouth fell open a little. No one had ever said something like that to me before, and I was stunned. I’d never thought of where my precocious strength was leading me; I’d only been aware of the fact that it was leading me. That was what he intended in coming to speak to me that day; to make me aware of the loyalties that bound the Leaf-nin to their village.

He was doing so because the powerful ones who failed to learn that before becoming more powerful often became dangerous.

But back then, I didn’t see it that way. I was in awe that the Yondaime had deigned to speak with me, and fascinated by the idea of being willing to die for other people. He had very strong charisma, the Fourth did. That was why we all looked up to him. Sitting there beside him in the courtyard, I thought to myself, The Hokage knows many answers. I want to grow into a man just like him.

He explained to me what the ninja code of honor meant to him, which I listened to with rapt attention. Then he rose and left me, stepping through the sliding door into the house to confer again with my parents. Left to myself, I leaped to my feet and rushed to my room. There I found a quill and a scroll and wrote down everything that he had told me, so I’d never forget. I would destroy it eight years later, in deep disgust. It was no great loss; there was no real wisdom in his ideas about strength.

The Fourth was a fool.

He was defeated not by Kyuubi, but by his own brave, stupid ideals.

Shinobi are not born powerful to make martyrs of themselves.

But my disillusionment didn’t come for many years, and so when I was small I idolized the Yondaime like all the others.

The verdict was reached, of course, that I was indeed to be sent to school. I was to begin the same term as my cousin Shisui, which meant within three weeks of the decision being made.

On the appointed day, I set out from home with a bento from my mother and a head full of questions. At my side walked Shisui, seeming a great deal less optimistic. He was usually such a cheerful person, but that day he seemed full of some grim sense of duty. I was curious.

“Does Shisui-sempai not like coming to school with me?” I asked him. He had never bullied me, though he was far stronger and could have if he’d wanted to.

Now he turned to look at me, very solemn with his shaggy black hair falling over his face and his jaw set with determination.

“I will look after you, Itachi,” he told me firmly. “It’s important that we go together.”

I wasn’t too keen on this. “Did Chichi-ue tell you to?”

“Yeah,” he admitted, with hardly any sheepishness. “But I’ve already decided that it’s my special mission.”

“What Class mission is it?” I asked, distracted again by my curiosity. “D? A? S?”

This made him laugh. He always found things I said funny that I hadn’t meant to be funny at all, but I didn’t mind. He always called me Itachi, and never that genius.

By the end of our first day at school, however, I realized why my father had been worried. With my other classmates, it was hatred at first sight. They didn’t like that I knew all the answers, they didn’t understand my unabashed desire to learn, and they certainly disliked being out-shown by someone three years younger than they were. I believe I would’ve been a target for bullying if it weren’t for Shisui. When I walked home from school with him, moving in his shade like a shadow, the others shot us looks but never bothered us.

As I’ve said before, Shisui was the strongest of the younger Uchiha, and in those days he walked around with a chip on his shoulder. He never returned the glares, but sometimes his eyes would flash red, for the briefest of instants. He was warning them that I was his shadow, and they had no right to harm me. Shisui always was a hothead; my parents said so. The Uchiha were widely respected, and he seemed to take any hostility toward me as an affront to his Clan. He treated me like a friend, but also like a symbol of the Uchiha, whose honor he was bound to protect. I can’t say I liked being treated like a symbol any more than that genius, but I liked Shisui. Maybe even loved him; he became like my brother. Not that any of that matters.

Well . . . maybe it did matter, after all. Without that bond, I wouldn’t be what I am today. I owe him that, at least.

But it’s enough to say that in those days, the both of us were alone together often, and so came to prefer each others’ company.

A year rolled by. My mother’s belly grew large and low-slung; my aunts said she was carrying a girl. When she finally gave birth, on a dull, hot summer day, it was a boy. I was allowed in to see them afterward and I remember it well: my mother sweaty with her black hair straggled across her brow; the tiny creature in her arms red and screaming. My father came in behind me, silent but proud. He laid a large hand on the crowns of each of our heads---mine and my brother’s---and he stood there for a moment as if just by touching us both he was connecting us together in his heart. His Uchiha children, who would one day bear the Sharingan as he did. His sons, who would fight side by side for the glory of our clan. I felt no connection, though. Whatever my father felt, to me it was just a hand resting on my head, a little heavy. I wanted to shake it off.

I didn’t hate my new brother, but neither did I love him. He was simply there. The only active good that came of his presence in the house was that he kept my mother occupied. I was glad she had another child to care for; it distracted her from worrying about me.

In the meantime, I was growing stronger under the tutelage of the Academy. I always practiced with Shisui; he taught me things he’d learned in his more advanced classes. This, of course, only served to deepen the resentment my own classmates bore me. But I was beginning to realize just how stupid their hatred was, and how little it meant to me. After all, I would one day become much stronger than they were, and the Hokage had told me it was the duty of the strong to protect the weak. In my eyes, they were weak, because all they could do was hate me.

My heart was firmly set upon becoming a strong man.

And then . . . the Fourth died. Three months later. Swiftly, like a flame snuffed by the wind.

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Itachi Uchiha
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Name: Itachi Uchiha
Age: 18
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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 1:55 pm

One day, as Shisui and I were heading for school, the sentries at Konoha’s gates sent out cries of alarm. The news went traveling across the Village like wildfire, even before the earth began to shake. A great demon fox bearing nine tails was headed straight for our village. I don’t know its true origin---the Kyuubi’s. At that time, Konoha was newly out of a war with the Stone Country. Our list of casualties was long---particularly the Uchiha, which I will speak of later. Once the Kyuubi reached the village, the list grew. Our forces were deployed a second time, to face a threat unlike any they’d ever faced before---or at least a force that none of those living in that era could remember facing.

The ground trembled and shook, and some of the older buildings collapsed. As was standard in times of invasion, the civilians, women and children were herded into underground shelters. There is a particularly large network of tunnels under Konoha, all of which lead to larger chambers beneath the mountain where the Hokage memorial monument is carved. It’s a dank, musty place with poor lighting and even poorer water quality. To say nothing of sewage. Of course we didn’t complain, because we were shinobi children and already we had been taught that suffering was our fate in life. There were no screams or flights of panic as we filed into the tunnels. There might have been tears, but mine were not among them. I was only five, but I had left tears behind me long ago.

After an endless journey in darkness, breathing in stale air that made our eyes sting, we reached the large chambers beneath the mountain. And there we waited, sitting huddled on the floor and smelling the stink of each others’ fear. You can smell fear on others; something in the sweat. It was stifling there. To get away from it, I climbed upward, following a long system of ladders through vertical tunnels. They led me to a place where I could squeeze out a hole in the rock little bigger than a dinner plate. An adult would not have been able to fit; I was fortunate to be so small and slight at that age.

I crawled into daylight, squinting and rubbing the dust from my eyes, and found myself on a narrow ledge on the cliff face. It was very high; I’d climbed a long ways. But I quickly forgot any fear of vertigo once my eyes adjusted to the brightness.

I could see it. The demon. It was enormous; taller than our buildings. Red and raw and powerful, chakra bleeding off it into the air like flames. A chilling autumn wind swept against the mountainside, but I rose shakily into a standing position. Buildings were falling. Trees were cracking and snapping away from the massive tails like matchsticks. Everywhere---in Konoha and in the forests beyond---there were screams of agony and shouts of encouragement; flares of jutsu and bodies tossed carelessly like pebbles, broken and flung from claws and razor-iron jaw as it snarled and wheeled about. Its destruction knew no direction. When anything is that powerful, there is no need for reason, nor for fear. The Kyuubi’s massive tails swept to and fro, bruising the land and beating a path further toward the main walls of the village. The adults I knew were there somewhere. They were ants beneath its feet. From the distance at which I watched, they were ants to me. I couldn’t hear the roar of crumbling stone, the shriek of bending metal, the thunder of each terrible footfall. But I knew that this thing would kill and kill and kill until we were all mashed lumps of flesh, smeared across the rubble. I knew it instinctively. And for the first time, I felt true terror.

A trickle of warmth down one of my legs. Body shaking so badly I would’ve fallen if I weren’t rooted to the spot. Heart a rapid tattoo against my ribs. Breath an uneven pattern of short, sharp exhalations and hisses.

A word came to me then. Beautiful. I have never thought anything beautiful since.

The demon’s power; my raw fear . . . in that strange moment there didn’t seem to be any difference between the two. We both saw the village falling, and the warriors scurrying like ants, from a view high above what forces Konoha could muster to drive it back. It was like I was seeing it all through the beast’s crimson eyes.

I could not see it, but my own eyes had gone crimson with the gleam of the Sharingan.

“ITACHI!” someone shouted. Behind me. A hand grasping my ankle firmly. “GET THE HELL BACK HERE! DO YOU WANT TO DIE?”

I recognized the voice. And I looked away from the panorama of destruction before me, breaking the spell.

“I don’t want to die,” I replied, in a tight, strained voice that sounded very little like my own, let alone like a child’s. Obediently I crouched down and pushed my way back through the hole. I had only gotten halfway through when rough arms pulled me the rest of the way. I had scraped myself on the rock and it hurt; there was a smear of blood across one cheek. But I soon found my faced pressed against Shisui’s chest, so tightly I almost couldn’t breathe. It was part relieved embrace and part punishment; he might’ve cracked my ribs.

“Don’t get lost again, you little shit,” he snarled down at the top of my head.

Then his grip on me loosened so that he was only steadying me against him on the ladder, and we began our descent to rejoin the others.

I smiled a little in the darkness. It was good he didn’t see me smile, because he might have punched me in the face for it. No one ever called me names to my face, because I was too special a child to deserve that. But to Shisui, that day in the tunnel and thereafter, I was a brat who needed a keeper. Yes, I believe I did love him. And I started loving him for that.

I didn’t know then, or for many years, though, that love was a tool to be used.

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Itachi Uchiha
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Registration date : 2007-06-26

Character Information
Name: Itachi Uchiha
Age: 18
Health:
100/100  (100/100)

PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 1:55 pm

The war ended. The Kyuubi was vanquished---sealed into the belly of a very stupid child, but I knew nothing of that at the time.

The Fourth Hokage, the most powerful man in Konoha, was dead. I stood with my clan at the funeral, beside my father. I cried for the Yondaime, though it was more out of confusion than grief for loss of him. He had seemed so strong to me. I had thought he might live forever. I had thought that the ideals they drummed into our head---protecting with our lives---would somehow keep us all from dying in the battles we fought by giving us strength of our own. But he was dead.

My father stood beside me, tall and dark and grim, and he didn’t weep. He was too raw with grief to bear it openly. He only laid a hand on my head, and again it was heavy and I wanted to shake it off. Then he looked down at me. I will never forget how he looked, even now that he’s dead and long rotten in the ground.

He wore a long black cloak emblazoned with the Uchiha crest, fluttering around him like dark wings. There was a scar across his brow, puckered and ugly with stitches. But that was not what made my breath catch in my throat. His squared jaw, his furrowed brow, his eyes that had once looked softly on me grown cold and purposeful.

In the battle, the Uchiha had been sent to the front lines to face down the demon’s threat. My uncle---my father’s brother; the head of our clan---had been killed. This meant two things: the first, that my father was now essentially the leader of the Uchiha. The second, that I was now the heir apparent to his position. In his eyes, in that moment at the funeral, I became his heir and not his Itachi. It was as if his eyes were automatically aging me to manhood, disciplining me to power so that I might lead in his stead one day. He knew I had engaged the Sharingan dojutsu for the first time, when I was watching the battle from the mountainside. Shisui had seen it, and told him. And now I was not a child in his eyes. It was that genius that he saw. His prodigy.

I, too changed in that moment. I thought, ‘Chichi-ue, I promise to become powerful.’

And I stopped asking why.

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Itachi Uchiha
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Number of posts : 269
Registration date : 2007-06-26

Character Information
Name: Itachi Uchiha
Age: 18
Health:
100/100  (100/100)

PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 1:56 pm

Life changed after the day of the Yondaime’s funeral. I hadn’t been in the Academy for much more than a year when my father told me that I’d learned everything there was to learn in school. Whatever part of my childhood was lost when the fourth Hokage died, I still had a child’s naivety, and had no real idea whether I really had learned everything. Certainly I knew I wasn’t an adult yet. But I also thought I might like it better if I could get out of the classes where everyone hated me for doing well. That was why I never spoke up and told my father how I felt. I trusted him to know what was best.

I was only six, but he began to push my teachers to give me the graduation exam prematurely. Unlike the question of my enrollment a year before, this request was flatly denied. My teachers kept repeating that I wasn’t ready.

My father kept repeating that I was.

“You graduated the White Fang’s son when he was six!” he argued heatedly. “Six! My child is every bit the talent he was and more!”

There was a pause, and the Chuunin instructors sitting behind their long panel conferred.

“Those were extenuating circumstances,” one of them finally told my father, folding his hands composedly in front of him. “Circumstances not excluding the boy’s innate genius. Private circumstances, which it would not be proper for us to discuss in this forum.”

“You toss the word genius around so easily, and yet you say my child does not compare to that boy?” my father retorted.

I watched the debates fly between them like knives.

Afterward, I asked him, “Chichi-ue, who is the White Fang’s son?”

“A thief,” he replied, “whose very abilities mock the blood of our dead.” Then my father grew stern and tight-lipped, and he would speak no further of it.

Of course, he’d neglected to mention to my teachers the circumstances of my activation of the Sharingan---that I’d done it involuntarily and wouldn’t have known I’d done it if Shisui hadn’t told me. Privately, he began to instruct me. He would order me to sit facing him in a room by ourselves.

“Look at me, Itachi,” he said. “No, not like that. I don’t want you to see me the way you normally do. Imagine that I’m an enemy, and that you’re going to have to fight me with all your strength. That’s how you must look at me.”

I stared at him hard. I performed this exercise for hours, to no avail. My eyes stayed black.

And I stayed in the Academy.

My father wouldn’t tell me what my teachers said about me during his last attempts---about why I wasn’t ready---but his frustration communicated itself to me, and as a result I worked myself to exhaustion trying to excel at everything I did in school. My grades were perfect. My techniques were flawless. I was the best in my class, except for Shisui, who was still stronger. But my dojutsu remained dormant.

“You aren’t focusing, Itachi!” My father’s fist pounded the table between us, rattling the two cups of tea my mother had brought us. I’d temporarily slipped into a daze; I could hear my little brother crying in the other room, and the soft strains of my mother singing. The sounds seemed a world away from where I was.

My father’s tea spilled, and immediately I reached over and righted it before its contents could trickle off the table and onto the floor. “Leave it,” he said sharply, even though I’d already fixed it. “If you don’t put all your heart and all your soul into a goal then you will always fall short.”

Chichi-ue, I’m tired,” I complained. It was a moment of weakness; I’d been training unusually hard that day on a taijutsu move Shisui was teaching me, and had pushed my young body too far. I was hitting a growth spurt then, and my bones ached. A little of the tea had burned my hand.

“Good,” was his reply. “The greatest goals require sacrifice. Don’t ever forget that, Itachi. No power without a price; no strength without cost.” It was an old shinobi saying.

I never forgot it.

We trained long into the night, until I literally collapsed. My father carried me to bed.

A year passed like this. Shisui felt sorry for me, I think. Especially since he’d been the one to start it all by reporting my Sharingan episode. That was why he took the time to train with me, even when he himself was worn to the bone. And he was even gruffer with me, because he didn’t want me to know he pitied me.

One time he found me sitting outside my house on the porch, all by myself. It was late at night, and even my father was asleep.

“Itachi, what’re you doing up?” he demanded, squatting down in front of the stoop to look me in the eye. His bangs flopped across his eyes, and he blew hard with his mouth to push them back. “Pffh. Don’t tell me you’re running away; you pack too light.” He nodded toward the knapsack next to my legs on the steps. It wasn’t very full.

Without a word I emptied the sack on the porch to show him what I’d brought. A dozen kunai clattered to the wood, ringing off each other where they collided. We both stared at them in silence for a minute.

“I can’t sleep,” I finally explained. “I’m going to train.”

He sighed, slouching back on his heels until his rear end rested on the ground. The next thing I knew, he was twiddling a kunai by the handle between his middle and index fingers. He’d moved so swiftly I hadn’t even seen the blur his arm became when he took it. I stared at the weapon in his hand, mesmerized.

“I can’t wait to be able to do that,” I murmured wistfully.

Shisui sighed again and stood up, pocketing the kunai. “I have a better idea. Come with me. I’ll show you something good.”

I gathered all my kunai into the sack and stuffed it under the porch. Then I followed him away from the house. In those days I trusted Shisui without fail. He always knew what I’d like best, even when I didn’t know what I wanted.

We walked together down the wide streets of the Uchiha compound under a gentle half-moon. The place was near to empty, for most of those in my clan worked hard and retired early. The only person who was awake to see us was one of my distant cousins, Yuu---a forty-year-old drunk who always sat quietly at the bar stand he frequented late at night. He’d been that way since he lost his son, which was only a few months before the Kyuubi’s attack. He watched Shisui and I pass without a word. His eyes were watery and rimmed with a red that had nothing to do with the Sharingan.

No one stopped us from going on our way. Other times, the few who did see us saw no need. They all trusted Shisui with me; for all his rough edges he was well-liked.

That night Shisui took me to a bridge, which spanned the part of the river’s course that ran through the Uchiha compound. We jumped up onto the stone wall on one side of the bridge and stood there, gazing down at the water. It sparkled with fragments of the moon.

“Are we going to swim?” I asked, pointing downward.

Shisui gave a short, barking laugh---a laugh I liked because it was full of boyish arrogance but at the same time it meant he had something really interesting in mind.

“I’m not here to swim,” he declared, throwing his head back proudly. “But you may end up swimming at first, so prepare yourself.”

“What do I do?” I asked, trusting him.

“Follow me,” he said simply. And he jumped.

He landed on his feet atop the water, with only the softest of splashes. My mouth fell open. This was something I’d seen adults do, and some of the teenagers, but he was still a Genin. He looked up at me and grinned, then hopped gently up and down a few times as if springing on a mattress. Then he pointed up at my feet.

“C’mon, Itachi. It’s easy. You just draw chakra into the soles, and pretty soon you don’t even have to think about it! It’s like running down the street.”

And he started to run. Not far; he was just jogging, really. But I was suddenly struck with fear that he was going to run away.

Well . . . that wasn’t precisely it. It was it felt like he was going to leave me behind. I didn’t want to be a little boy, standing on a bridge by myself in the middle of the night, just because I was too small and too unskilled to follow him. That was why I jumped.

I landed with a raucous splash and sank a good four feet. But I didn’t try to swim, even though instinct compelled me to. I held my breath, gathering chakra into my feet like he’d instructed.

I never did find out if gathering chakra in your feet underwater could have made me rise to the surface. The next thing I knew, a pair of thin, wiry hands hauled me upward. He’d grabbed me by the hair with one hand and by the arm with the other, and I let out a gasp as I was hauled back into the cold night air.

“Ow!” I sputtered, clawing at the hand gripping my hair. “Put me down!”

Shisui set me down, letting go of my hair.

“How dumb can you get?” he railed at me. “You’re supposed to summon the chakra into your feet before you jump, not after! And if you fall in water, every idiot knows you’re supposed to swim to the surface, not try and finish the damn jutsu while you sink!”

My eyes had teared up from the pain, but Shisui misinterpreted it.

“Hell, I didn’t bring you just to stand there and blubber,” he grumbled, scratching at the back of his head, which he always did when he realized he’d been too harsh with me. “And you are standing, by the way. Look down.”

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 1:56 pm

I looked down, blinking in surprise. I was. I’d still had chakra concentrated in my feet when he pulled me up, and now my feet were resting comfortably on top of the water, as if I were standing on thick carpet. I jumped up and down, experimenting, and found I no longer sank.

“You did it,” Shisui murmured, but there was the faintest shadow of a false note in his praise that I didn’t fail to miss. I always learned more about what people were really thinking by what they didn’t say than by what they said. Tall and lanky and beginning to be fine-looking, staring down at a slight little brat a head shorter than he was---even with these differences between us, even when he had the upper hand, Shisui was a little jealous. I think he’d secretly hoped I would fail many times at first, so he could teach me.

In that sense, I suppose, love is just another form of power struggle.

I didn’t hate him for his jealousy, though. In a way, I owed my swift mastery of water-walking to Shisui because he’d pulled me out of the water.

“Let’s race now,” I told him. I was cold and wet, and keen on plunging right into practical use of my new jutsu.

The shadow faded from his face, and he smirked. “You know you can’t keep up with me, Itachi.”

“Not yet,” I countered. “I’ll grow long legs like yours.”

Shisui pulled a swift about-face and took off running.

“Ha! You’re a hundred years too early, Itachi!” he called as he went, voice trailing behind him like the wind. “Just try and beat me!”

Pressing my lips together in determination, I sped after him. Until the moon set, he and I went careening through Konoha’s canals, kicking up runnels of water in our wake. I never did beat him, but I believe he did slow down because he didn’t want to lose me.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 1:57 pm

By the time I’d reached the age of seven, I was still enrolled in the Academy, and my father had given up on an early graduation in disgust.

“But it’s alright, Itachi,” he told me one day over dinner. “I know it’s not because you’re behind. In the meantime, we’ll play to your strengths.”

I had no idea what he meant by this, but I was always willing to learn. The next morning, a weekend, he took me down to the lake behind our house before the sun had risen. There was a long wooden dock there and nothing else. No boat. No trees, either. I swiftly learned why this was so. My father formed a quick series of seals with his fingers, then quietly named the technique. He inhaled deeply and blew. The next thing I knew, the soft blue shadows of pre-dawn were banished by a great wall of flame, hurtling across the air over the lake. My eyes grew very large, even though it was like looking at the sun. I froze.

When at last it had dispelled, my father turned and looked down at me. His eyes narrowed briefly. “It’s not something to fear, Itachi,” he told me. “It is the fire technique, Katon: Ryuuka no Jutsu. A precursor to even greater jutsu, which like the Sharingan are the pride of our clan.”

“I want to learn,” I breathed. His expression softened, and he actually smiled. “That’s my child,” he said.

The Sharingan lessons stopped. I think this was largely due to an argument he’d had with my mother the prior week, which she’d won. She told him I wasn’t eating enough, and there were shadows under my eyes. She told him a boy should not have shadows under his eyes. My father relented. He did love me, after all. It was just buried under layers of duty and responsibility, like skin under scar tissue. It was not an easy time to be head of the Uchiha.

The village was in the process of being rebuilt after the Kyuubi disaster. The Hokage was dead. The elder Sandaime had been pressed upon to come out of retirement and resume his position. I didn’t care much who took the place of the Fourth---I had stopped caring after he died. The Third, I learned ten years later, died in much the same way, which didn’t surprise me. The Fourth had to have learned the folly of throwing his life away from someone; presumably it was from his Sensei.

The Uchiha had suffered heavy losses in numbers---many sons and fathers, who were our mainstays because the women could not activate the Sharingan. As I said before, the Uchiha were sent to the front lines. We were more expendable than the Hyuuga, because we’d been bred to be expendable. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Needless to say, my father had his hands full managing Konoha’s policing forces. It was no real fault of his that he never knew what was really going on in my head.

I think he began our early morning training sessions because he felt guilty about not having time for his family. I didn’t care one way or the other, really. But I was happy, because I was growing stronger every day. And I was beginning to wonder where all this was leading. After all, I couldn’t just keep getting stronger forever. There had to be an end to these means. Otherwise, what was the point?

My thin arms grew taut with muscle. I lost what baby fat I’d had left and took on a lean, wiry look that wasn’t very pleasing to the eye.

“You’re starting to look a lot like your cousin,” my mother remarked one day over breakfast. “Lanky. And your hair---how can you see through that?” My hair had grown shaggy and unkempt because I was always out the door for training before she could get a proper look at me. “Come here, Itachi,” she ordered. “I’ll cut your bangs.”

She took her time doing so, chatting pleasant motherly things that are half-advice and half affectionate fussing. She told me I mustn’t take my father’s sternness toward me so seriously. She told me I needed to eat more because my cheeks were getting hollow. She told me I ought to take a day off from training once in a while to spend time with my brother. As if he knew what she was admonishing, Sasuke toddled over to me while she moved around to trim the hair on the back of my head. He was not quite two years old, but already he had a thick head of black Uchiha hair and bright black eyes. He reached stubby arms toward me, saying, “Ah, ah, Chi.”

“He wants in your lap,” my mother translated.

I let him climb into my lap, looking down at him while my mother’s gentle hands trimmed the hair at the nape of my neck. He turned around and settled in with his warm back cradled against my chest, as if he belonged there. It was strange to me that such a small, soft creature would want to be close to me like this. It felt like he would break if I weren’t careful. It made me nervous, having him trust me that much.

Another year rolled by. I took none of my mother’s advice to heart.

And I got into my first fight.

I don’t know how anyone found out my teachers were actually beginning to give consideration to graduating me. I didn’t even know about it. They were watching me closely, those days, my teachers. Only I never realized how close until I’d made what could have been the greatest mistake of my life.

You didn’t speak to the Hyuuga unless they spoke to you. They were aloof and haughty, though the village treated them like hothouse plants and they were rarely sent on the more dangerous missions. Their children were quiet, arrogant brats with the power to stop your heart in one strike of the hand. They were even more admired than the Uchiha, but not as popular because they were so unapproachable.

That day, one of them approached me.

“You’re the one they call genius, aren’t you?” he asked me in cold, clipped tones. I won’t do him the honor of mentioning his name, because he certainly never mentioned mine. That would have been too much of an acknowledgement of someone as lowly as I.

“I’m Uchiha Itachi,” I replied tensely.

“I can see you’re an Uchiha; you’ve no need to announce it,” he snapped. He was a head taller than me, and though pale his body had the hard look of ice---the sort of glacial ice that can be struck but not easily shattered. Like all the Hyuuga, he had pale eyes and dark hair, but unlike the others he wore his hair cropped short. I knew this was a sign of mourning---I’d seen it on my own clan members after the Kyuubi’s attack. We stood there a moment, taking the measure of each other. Then he nodded as if he’d confirmed something.

“Follow me,” he said.

We went around the back of the school building, to the ranges where we trained for taijutsu. There were rows and rows of wood boards, pockmarked with kunai holes. There was a clearing beyond the range dotted with trees and bushes, for basic stealth and evasion techniques. I followed the Hyuuga boy into the alley of the range.

There was no need for him to tell me what he wanted. But while he was burning with an anger so cold I could almost see the white flames dancing off him, I felt . . . nothing. It was a curious thing. I’d had many teachers; I followed him now because I was curious to see what he could teach me.

He struck the first blow. He rushed at me with cold fury, crossing both arms over his chest in what I thought was preparation for a series of punching moves we’d recently learned in taijutsu class. I prepared to block.

Then he uncurled his fists, and I realized what he was actually doing only as the two kunai sang past my face, scratching my brow on one side and my cheek on the other. Even then, I was so surprised I didn’t move until I felt the first sting, and the first blood droplet bead on my temple. Until he was already drawing more kunai from his holster.


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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 1:57 pm

An ordinary child might have remained frozen in shock, demanded to know why this was happening. I was not an ordinary child. And I pushed the fear aside, understanding that he was not doing this to kill me, but to humiliate me. He was jealous. Also, I don’t know what loss he’d suffered, but grief has a way of distorting emotions, skewing reason.

I didn’t understand grief at that point, and I harbored no compassion for him. My thoughts became focused on the here and now---I cared nothing for what he was feeling, and neither did I stop to wonder at the fact that I felt no fear. I was a scene from a play, directed by instinct.

I’m not armed. He means to kill me. I must run, assess, strike from behind a shield . . .

I was off in a flash. He laughed as I fled. Didn’t even chase me as I darted behind one of the target walls. Didn’t see that my pretense at stumbling was actually what bought me time to catch up the two kunai he’d thrown in a perfect, swift sleight of hand. Shisui’s training; I’d finally mastered that one.

“You can’t win, Uchiha!” he called, practically spitting out my clan name. “It’s not in your blood.”

Even as I began to formulate a strategy for action, I also thought that this was an odd thing for him to say.

“What do you mean by that?” I called back. I have two kunai. If I throw both at once, I’ll have no kunai again and have to go out into the open to get them.

He was walking slowly toward the target wall behind which I hid.

“The Uchiha were supposed to be stronger to us,” he replied in a low voice. “But instead you fell short.” As he said the word short, he flung one of his kunai. It struck the wood target at head level with such impact that the point sank through. I could see it glint on my side of the wall.

I could not make heads or tails of his meaning, but I decided that trying to figure out the meaning was stupid and pointless. Reason had no place here.

BYAKUUGAN!” he shouted. My body tensed. I knew what that was, but I hadn’t ever seen it before. “I can see you,” he said, in quieter tones. He was approaching the target. I saw the sunlight between the slats of wood blocked as he laid a hand on it. He could see me like the wood wasn’t even there. It was like he was touching me.

Instinctively, I backed away. But there wasn’t far to go in that direction.

He drew in a deep, shaky breath. He wrenched the kunai from the target. He said to me, “You’re going to pay for what I’ve lost.” He said this without a single break in his voice, in the even tones of the mad.

I knew as soon as he took back the knife that he was going to come for me. That was when I ran.

There was nothing spectacular about that fight, I suppose. It was more of a chase, really. But I wasn’t running with no reason. I recalled something my father had told me: Always look for the advantage. It’s there. And it won’t present itself to you; you must reach out and take it. Sacrifice for it.

There’s always a price.

I paid with my pride, running away from my first enemy. But what I bought with my pride was the advantage. I lured him into the clearing, and then beyond that into the trees. There I vanished from view.

He didn’t know the art of the Gentle Fist, fortunately, because I might have been killed that day. But he was deadly quick with his hands and, consequentially, his kunai. His searchlight eyes swung this way and that as he stalked me through the forest. He didn’t see me until he finally looked up, standing beneath the branch below which I was perched. With chakra gathered in my feet, I stood upside down. I aimed my kunai straight for his throat and threw.

The clash of metal on metal rang through the forest. Materializing as if out of nowhere, one of the Academy had appeared between the Hyuuga boy and my knife. He had raised his own kunai in time to block mine, and he was looking straight at me. I stared down at him, frozen. He wasn’t one of my teachers, but I’d seen him before. An Uchiha. His eyes upon me were cold and searching.

“Uchiha Itachi,” he said. “Come with me.”

I began walking down the tree trunk at a calm pace. The Hyuuga boy watched me with a deep frown; I doubted he could do what I was doing---the tree-walking, that is. I wanted him to watch me. Once I was level with the ground, I intended to walk past him as if I didn’t see him. Because he didn’t see me.

You only see That Genius. Well, I don’t see YOU then. I REFUSE to see you.

I intended to walk down the tree trunk and step onto the grass. Instead, the world reeled and went dark.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:00 pm

I woke up again in bed, at home. I could hear shouting from another room. Which one, I couldn’t tell. Our house had thick walls. I was alone. Slowly, I sat up. My head hurt a little, and my fingers’ exploration of it told me that there was a small square of gauze taped over one eyebrow and part of my temple. There was another, even smaller strip on my other cheek. Carefully, I swung my legs over the side of my bed and stood. Everything seemed to work. Quietly, I opened my door and crept down the hall.

They were in the receiving room, my father and the school administrators.

“I can’t believe,” he said, in a low voice, “that it took this to open your eyes.”

“As I’ve said, we’re doing this on the condition that Setsuna-sensei takes the boy on. We want him watched.”

A brusque, huffing noise. My father, impatient to be off that topic. “You’ll find him beyond reproof. He’s not to blame for who’s jealous of him.”

Quiet. My mother’s voice, murmuring something. My father sighed.

“It’s agreed, then,” said another voice---a man’s; smooth and grave. “I’ll look after him well, Cousin.” A pause. “A genius like him doesn’t belong at the Academy with children, anyway.”

“And the Hyuuga?” My father’s voice, angry again.

I didn’t want to hear more. I suddenly felt dizzy, and a little sick. And I felt a tugging at my pants leg.

“’Nii-san?”

Turning and looking down, I saw Sasuke standing there, looking up at me with wide eyes.

’Nii-san, why is ‘Tou-san yelling? Is it ‘cause you’re hurt?”

I don’t know if I wished that was the reason or not. I didn’t like to be fussed over. But perhaps it was the genius they were discussing. Those days I couldn’t be sure anymore.

I forced a smile and took his little hand, leading him away from the hall. “Go to your bed and sleep,” I told him.

He hesitated, standing in the doorway of his room. Looked back at me. “’Nii-san, sleep too. You’ll get better, and be strong again.”

I turned on my heel and went back to my room without answering him. I did sleep, though. For two days. As if my body were trying to answer my mind’s wish to sleep forever.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:00 pm

He had learned the art of the Gentle Fist, and others as well, and tried to engage me in close combat. I let him strike me, with the intent of entangling him in wires of chakra strung out from my fingers. When I fell he backed off a little, gloating. He told me that it was the fate of the weak to die. But I rose to my feet and sprang my trap. The wires around his neck tightened like a garrote. The maneuver stunned him at first; his eyes bulged, and blood began to trickle from his throat. Before he could even react swiftly enough to sever the wires with chakra points on his own hands, I inhaled deeply and breathed fire. It went roiling along the lengths of the wires, to his head.

His face melted.

He was thrashing, smothering on his own melting skin. Dimly, I was aware of the Jounin overseeing the match calling frantically for medical ninja to attend, and for me to let go of the wires. I did. My enemy fell. I stood there as if in a dream, watching the blaze die and disperse into the air, smelling the sweet sickening scent of burning flesh. I didn’t know what to feel. The crowd above was utterly silent, transfixed with horror. I wanted to vomit, but I didn’t. I swallowed hard, forcing myself to watch. I had done this; it was only fitting that I suffer through watching it to its completion. I think, in the end, Setsuna-sensei had to force me to leave the field, so they could . . . clean up for the next match.

My eyes were red with the Sharingan, and it was not until I was gone from the field that they returned to normal. Later that night, alone in my room, I looked at my reflection in my window and was able to summon the Sharingan again, at will. The Hyuuga boy had been right, and I had indeed learned something from him: It is the fate of the weak to die. And as I looked at myself in the window, I fingered the scars on my face and smiled faintly. I knew, then. He had died because I was more powerful. All along, I’d hated him more.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:01 pm

They would not name me Chuunin. Out of my team, only Akito passed. I began to see less and less of my home and of Shisui, for despite the fact that I hadn’t made next rank requests were pouring in for my team’s services. I might have horrified the crowd watching my match, but they certainly had faith in my abilities.

My Sharingan talents, as if making up for lost time, blossomed quickly. My father was proud. He wanted me to take over his position, after all, and I’d proven myself in his eyes even if I wasn’t a Chuunin.

“You know, Itachi-kun,” Kabuto told me once, “the Sandaime is the one opposing your promotion to Chuunin.”

I frowned, bemused by this. I was strong, wasn’t I? What else was there to prove?

Kabuto answered my unasked question slyly: “Maybe he’s afraid of you. People always want to hold back what they don’t understand.” He had meant to goad me then; I wasn’t naive enough to be without suspicion. I said nothing in reply.

I threw myself into missions. But I was beginning to doubt. If strength wasn’t enough for those who watched me, judged me . . . then why was I becoming stronger? It seemed pointless. I had no goal to set, though everyone commended me for what I did because I did it well.

Of course, a boy grasping desperately about for reason eventually finds it, doesn’t he? It just isn’t always the answer everyone wishes he would find.

When I was ten, there came a contract for a mission that was to change the course of my life. I was to go with Setsuna-sensei and Kabuto to one of the bordering fiefdoms of the Fire Country, to assassinate a feudal lord. That was where I met Orochimaru.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:05 pm

It was a bold mission. A dangerous mission. Even my father was opposed to it.

“I want him here to work with me,” he argued, and I could see the hands resting composedly in his lap wanted very much to clench into fists.

I knelt beside him in the receiving room. I’d come to hate that room; whenever I was summoned to it I was always the prodigy, the potential, the object in question. But that night I could see the worry in the lines of my father’s face, and knew from what he wasn’t saying that he was speaking of me and not the other. My heart thawed a little.

“You are the one holding him back, Cousin,” Setsuna countered. My Sensei was an austere man, thin faced and tall, with streaks of white in his close-cropped hair. He was older than my father, and more cynical. But he was a shrewd man. And he was right.

I tilted my head to one side, staring quizzically at Setsuna as I waited for my father to explain his reasoning.

“What is it you fear he will do, Cousin?” my Sensei asked when my father kept silent. “He’s your son, of whom you’re proud. He is being offered a great opportunity to prove himself not just to the Village, but to the Fire Country lords.”

And my father looked down at me kneeling beside him, just as he had looked down at me on the day of the Fourth Hokage’s funeral. Only this time, there was something new in his eyes. The lines in his face deepened. What I saw there shocked me so much that I couldn’t speak. I could scarcely breathe.
He was afraid for me. Deeply so.

“Itachi is only ten years old, but he has already killed,” he said, turning away from me abruptly to hide his fear. “Fairly, honorably, justly, in battle. And of that I am proud.” I knew he was referring to the Hyuuga boy I had fought in the Chuunin exam arena. He didn’t sound as proud as he’d been before. “But this . . .” he went on. “To slit a man’s throat in dead of night, with blood cool as steel . . .” He looked at Setsuna for a moment as if he hated him. “My son is not ready.”

Setsuna’s retort came like a whiplash. “Why are we born, Cousin? Tell me!” Then he answered his own question. “Shinobi are born to kill. Whatever the reason---protection, offense, malice, revenge---it is still called killing. If you wish to view death as a taint, then your son is already tainted. Stop trying to bind him to the clan to keep him naïve.”

My father pounded the floor with his fist. The wood cracked a little. “My son’s duty is to the clan! Itachi is to follow the path to leadership!” His temper had ignited. “His genius belongs to the clan! He is already strong and sharp of mind. He is already cold enough without clearing this hurtle you wish to set before him!” There my father stopped, realizing what he’d just said in front of me.

Setsuna’s eyes flickered; even he was shocked, and for a moment he looked at me pityingly. But his next words were cruel. “That’s what’s holding him back, Cousin. And it has nothing to do with killing. In the Academy, I heard much about the case the instructors used to keep him from early graduation. In the Chuunin exam judging, do you know what they told me? Itachi’s behavior is solitary and ruthless. He has not forged any bonds through teamwork. It is through missions, Cousin, that he will learn leadership, for to be a leader one must first know how to form bonds with others. You can’t give him that by forcing him to stay in your shadow.”

Setsuna was not a kind man, but he was an honest one. And once again, he was right.

“I want to go, Chichi-ue,” I volunteered. My tone was firm, and my gaze unwavering as I looked up at him. “Setsuna-sensei will not allow harm to befall me.” A pause. “I can’t lead if I remain a Genin forever.”

And my father folded. The reasoning against him was near to flawless, even though in his gut he sensed pending danger.

Plans were laid. Setsuna-sensei left. I rose to leave as well.

“Your eyes are an adult’s,” my father said quietly. I turned. He was still kneeling on the floor. “You’ve become old before your time, and with what you plan to go and do you will no doubt become even older.” His gaze was grave and heavy as a hand resting atop my head. “I’m sorry, Itachi.”

I was well aware that he was apologizing for many things besides the mission and the cruel words he’d let slip.

“Don’t be,” I replied, shaping my lips into a smile to make him happy. “I’m just an old soul.” I forgive you for your cruelty, Chichi-ue, but I am what I’ve become. If you want me to forgive you for that, you’re too late.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:05 pm

The night before I left, while I lay awake in my bed staring at the ceiling, I heard the soft noise of feet moving down the hall. Then there came an even softer tapping on my door. Really, he would soon enter the Academy; he ought to have been stealthier. But I whispered, “Come in, Sasuke.”

He slid open the wood panel and stood there in the doorway rubbing his eyes with one fist. He was five.

’Nii-san, I had a bad dream,” he mumbled.

I sat up cross-legged in bed, flinging off the covers. It was too warm for them, anyway. “A nightmare? What do you expect me to do about it?”

He walked a little further into the room, looking miserable. “There was a ghost in my room,” he insisted. His eyes were huge.

“All right.” I sighed; it was obvious he wasn’t going to leave me in peace anytime soon. “You can sleep in here. But you are not to make noise. I leave very early in the morning.”

He climbed in with me and immediately claimed the middle for his space. This left me with just the edge, and my back pressed against his. But Sasuke obeyed me and kept quiet, and eventually his breath evened out into the slow measure of sleep. Meanwhile, my thoughts cycled back to what I’d been pondering before he came.

I’m going to kill a man. But this isn’t going to be a battle. It won’t be ‘him or me,’ like it was in the arena. It will just be . . . him.

I wondered how we would be expected to do it.

Poison? A knife across the throat, in the dark?

In front of his own children?


It was a horrid dichotomy of awareness, mulling over something like that while I could feel the gentle rising and falling of my brother’s back against my own. I hated that feeling; it made me want to pretend Sasuke wasn’t lying there---that I was alone. And it made me sick to my stomach at the same time, because I knew the small, warm person who lay dreaming beside me was my brother, who loved me even though he knew nothing of what was in my head.

In the dark hours before dawn, when the shadows were still lightening from indigo to blue, I slid away from that warmth and comfort. I lifted my pack full of honed kunai and shuriken, careful not to let them clink against each other lest Sasuke hear and wake. And I slipped out into the quiet streets without bidding anyone farewell.

Inhaling the brisk autumn chill outside sharpened my awareness. Alone, I didn’t have to think about difficult things like the love I didn’t feel, or about where my strength was leading me. There was only the mission ahead.

If you empty yourself of everything, killing is easy.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:06 pm

The journey to the location of our target was not as easy as I’d expected. Lord Gyoichi was an old man whose lands bordered the northernmost part of the Fire Country. These lands were a patchwork of rice paddies where cultivated and stinking marshes where left fallow. We were forced to travel through the latter, because keeping to the roads would expose us to Gyoichi’s spies.

Kabuto either knew more about the situation we were heading into than Setsuna-sensei did, or Setsuna was just keeping quiet to let him do all the work explaining. Regardless, I listened to my teammate expound on the mission profile with interest. Kabuto was the sort who watched everything intently and rarely opened his mouth without good reason.

“Like most tyrants everyone wishes would die, Gyoichi-sama is seventy years old and still in the best of health,” he told me, as we waded waist-deep through brackish water and reeds higher than our heads. “He has overstepped his bounds once too many times, ‘appropriating’ lands that don’t belong to him, squandering their resources, and then leaving their residents to starve. But do you know what I think, Itachi-kun? I think killing him isn’t going to solve anything.”

On Kabuto’s other side, Aburame Akito sloshed through the fen in silence, ignoring us both. Our teammate, whom we had not expected to be available to come with us, had returned early from his previous mission and now found himself traveling in our company. He obviously wasn’t happy about being called away again so soon. He was fourteen and he had a girlfriend.

Emboldened by the fact that he had an audience from me if not from Akito, Kabuto went on to say, “The problem with land disputes is that this country is run by feudal lords, who are greedy. When Gyoichi is dead, one just as bad will take his place. He has a son who will soon be old enough to rule.”

I mulled this over for a while. What I came up with in the end was probably the worst possible thing I could’ve said in front of my Sensei. “The problem probably isn’t that the feudal lords are corrupt; it’s that they’re ruling in the first place. They divide countries into even smaller parts, even though all the countries are already divided, making wars both inside and beyond their borders.” I paused, considering, and then went on, making it worse. “But even that problem comes from another. Civilians don’t know how to use power like shinobi, because the only power they have lies in land and wealth. They’re greedy, and they make wars to get what they want. But once they get what they want, it only solves their problems and not their peoples’. They’re like children who need a keeper.”

“Uchiha Itachi!”

I shut my mouth.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:13 pm

Setsuna-sensei was glaring at me. “That is precisely the attitude that makes our kind hated and feared in some places. Arrogance like that is dangerous---dangerous to have, for it binds you with the illusion that having power makes you wise. We are not superior to those we’re obligated to protect.”

I had no answer to that. Yet.

But Kabuto said softly, “Then why, when they’ve a dire need to be saved from themselves, do they summon us?”

Shinobi are a grand mistake,” Setsuna said icily, returning his sharp gaze to the terrain ahead. “Without the focus of serving the needs of others, we would destroy each other. Ponder that, you two, whenever such stupid ideas arise in your heads. And don’t waste the air I breathe by speaking of them again.”

We reached Gyoichi’s fortress that night. I wasn’t the one who killed him; Setsuna-sensei did. But I saw him do it. And I learned something very unusual about him in the process.

It was to be done swiftly and quietly, and no one was to know Konoha had a hand in it. This meant no mark left on the body, for as hated as this lord was the slightest evidence would point to engineered assassination. Or, rather, no mark was to be left that would indicate professionals had done it. We were meant to make it appear to be murder.

Committed by the lord’s own son.

Setsuna was to infiltrate the fortress first, together with Akito. Akito was essential for that because he could use his bugs to spy, and because Setsuna needed to conserve his strength for use of the Sharingan at the key moment. Then Akito was to send me a signal, and I was to join Setsuna while Kabuto and Akito provided diversions in two separate locations.

The infiltration was to last until nightfall. In the meantime, Kabuto and I had to spend the day hiding in the marsh. Crouching on low tree branches while surrounded by stinking, stagnant bog was something I could bear with stoicism. Kabuto, on the other hand, always brought out the worst in me.

“You’re pretty powerful, aren’t you, Itachi-kun?” he remarked, squatting beside me on the branch. “Even training with you, I don’t think I’ve seen everything you can do.”

Mosquitoes whined around our heads, trying to find places to alight and stick their needles through the layers of mesh and cloth and bandages that we wore. I slapped at them, ignoring Kabuto.

But he was persistent. “Don’t missions like this bore you?” he asked me.

This time I spared him a glance. “Missions are important. Even if they’re boring, they’re a means to an end. In case you didn’t notice, neither of us has earned our Chuunin rank yet.”

“I don’t care what title they call us by,” Kabuto snapped. “I’m talking about what you can do.” But I could tell he did care. He’d been acting oddly ever since he failed the Chuunin exam, losing his temper on occasion, which wasn’t something he normally did.

I know what I can do,” I told him curtly, to shut him up. “That’s good enough.”

I didn’t want him questioning me further, or he’d discern that I’d been wondering the same thing all along.

Fortunately---or perhaps unfortunately, from the vast perspective of fate---Akito’s signal came at that moment. A tiny winged beetle, circling repeatedly around us.

“Let’s go,” I told Kabuto, and together we jumped off the branch and made our way northward onto firmer ground. From there we were to follow the road to a small gate on the fortress’ eastern side, where Akito’s bugs had killed the guards in such a way that no attention was drawn to the attack.

The road led us up a hill, and would have led us directly down the other side to the gate if there hadn’t been a man blocking the way. He was standing at the top of the hill, with his back to us and his hands clasped thoughtfully behind him. As soon as we saw him we took cover in the bushes alongside the road; if he saw us he might have alerted the castle. Then we moved with what must have been almost no sound or betraying glimpse.

But the man in the road addressed us before we could skirt round him. “You’re here to join the other two within the fortress,” he said loudly, without turning around. He wore soft gray robes and sandals stained with mud, and his long black hair hung down his back in greasy strings. However, for all his humble appearances he bore the air of a man in control of his situation. His back was straight, and his speech unhurried. And his words had not been a question.

Kabuto and I, sensing that this was not a man to be trifled with, leaped from our concealment to stand behind him on the road.

“Who are you?” Kabuto asked him. One hand slid surreptitiously into his kunai pouch.

“Two children,” the man said, without turning around. “You’re both young. Genin, I don’t doubt, given the rash way you address me. But I almost didn’t notice you, so you must be skilled; you must be nearing Chuunin rank. Well on your way to becoming lapdogs of Konoha.”

After this speech, he fell silent, waiting to see what effect his goading might have had.

“What Village are you from?” I asked him, laying a warning hand on Kabuto’s elbow to keep him from actually drawing a kunai. I saw no need to ask if the stranger was a shinobi or not; that he had taken notice of our passage indicated that he was.

Finally, perhaps because my question wasn’t one he deemed stupid, the man turned around. I saw that he had a pale, narrow face, a wide, sneering mouth, and eyes that regarded me with the slit-thin gaze of a snake feigning sleep. He was smiling.

And he wore no hitae ate.

“How foolish,” he said. “What Village you come from doesn’t make you who you are.” The narrowed eyes slid sideways to Kabuto at my side, then back to me, dismissing my teammate. “You are an Uchiha,” he observed, looking at me more intently now. There was a hungry look in his eye that I immediately disliked---I was a boy who knew very well how people looked when they wanted something from you.

“You’re from Konoha,” I replied. I don’t know how I knew that, even to this day. It wasn’t because he knew I was an Uchiha---in those days the clan was internationally famous. Possibly it was because he hadn’t answered my question, and because he spoke aloud with the same air of malcontent I’d just been beginning to feel. It was the air of a man who’d cast aside all fetters chaining him to what he’d once been.

“I was from Konoha,” he agreed. “But now I’m here. I’m waiting for the fireworks to start.”

This time I drew my own weapon from its pouch. “What do you know?” I asked in a low voice. He knew something of my team’s agenda; I was sure of it. And I was prepared to silence him if need be.

We stared each other down for a moment; myself tense and ready, he more like a man eyeing a dog he thinks may bite him.

“Itachi-kun . . .” Kabuto sounded, for once, as if he had no idea what to do.

A slow smile spread across the stranger’s thin lips. One corner of his mouth lifted into a smirk. “Your eyes, boy,” he said. “Aren’t you the eager one?”

I had activated the Sharingan without realizing it. I didn’t relax my stance.

He laughed, short and harsh. “Keh. What if I were to tell you, boy, that I have no intention of stopping you from killing Gyoichi-sama? That I support the noble intentions of your mission? Will you just go around me without doing anything?” He tilted his head to one side, curiously. “Or will you kill me anyway, because you want to?”

Finally, I straightened, though I kept my knife in hand. “I don’t want to kill you.”

The stranger laughed, as if at some private joke. “Oh, but your eyes say you do. I shall let you pass, anyway, of course. I want to see this pathetic excuse for a feudal lord die, as well.”

I nodded briskly, turning away from him and motioning for Kabuto to follow me. I was grateful that our mission required haste from us, because I didn’t like the way those snake-slit eyes looked at me.

“Are you sure you won’t regret letting me live?” the stranger asked slyly as we passed him by. “What if your mission is wrong, and killing the tyrant will make things worse in the future? What if I told you I’m glad you’re the ones sullying your hands because otherwise I’d have to?”

I didn’t give him the satisfaction of a backward glance.

Kabuto did, though. “We have no reason to kill you,” he countered. “Don’t ask pointless questions.”

I could hear the grin in the stranger’s voice as he answered: “Reason, boy, is a very subjective thing. In the end, it all comes down to what you really want and what you have the balls to reach out and take.”

We crested the hill and started downward, leaving him behind.

Two hours later, Aburame Akito and Uchiha Setsuna were dead, a new country had been formed, and in Kabuto the seeds of treason had been sown.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:14 pm

“Sensei, your eyes---” I whispered, frowning.

“We’ll speak of it later,” Setsuna cut me off, slicing his hand through the air in negation. “Remember your task.”

My task was simple enough. We were huddled in an alcove down a long stone hall from the room where Gyoichi and his son were taking the evening meal. My body was taut with nerves. One hand clenched so tight around itself the nails left white indentations in my palm. We had been concealing ourselves in shadow until nightfall, so the cover of darkness would aid in retreating undiscovered. And now we were ready to move. Somehow, Setsuna-sensei was going to force the son to kill the father. All I had to do was use the Sharingan afterward to subdue the son. We were to make it look as if there had been a fight resulting in the death of one and the injury of the other.

“Let’s go,” Setsuna told me, averting his gaze. We started down the hall.

Planning to kill someone and actually doing it are two very different things. When you plan, the targets are just names on a paper, or on your tongue if your purpose requires too much secrecy to write anything down. Just names. Then you round the corner and see them: human faces. One old, one young, and a third you hadn’t expected to see, because the son also has a mother and she’s staring at you in white-faced alarm as you reach for your knife. Your Sensei’s eyes are rust-red, filled with spirals whose edges are sharp as shuriken blades. The room wavers, and you shut your eyes to try not to look at him, because you realize he is using an illusion technique and you don’t want to be drawn into it. You hear a scream. It’s the woman’s, because her son has just taken the knife your Sensei placed in his hand and driven it into the father’s throat. Even before the target’s body hits the floor your Sensei speaks your name, because you’re not just a spectator are you? You are a part of this. So do what you must. You open your eyes and activate their power, grasping the son by the collar of his robes and forcing him to meet your gaze. His eyes are very wide and frightened, and his face is a boy’s. He is a boy; not much older than you are. Sleep, you whisper, wanting him to stop looking at you like you’re a monster, so that you can be done with this mission and go home to where red is just the color of berries and sunsets and the scab on your brother’s knee where he fell running . . .

Mercifully, I had used the Sharingan well and Gyoichi’s son sagged in my arms. He slept immediately, but thanks to the technique Setsuna had used he would remember only what we wanted him to---that he had killed his own father. I laid him carefully on the floor near the door, so that when the castle guards found him it would appear that he had fallen unconscious after the fight with Gyoichi. And I stood over him for a moment, knowing that more was expected of me but battling the nausea that twisted my stomach.

“ITACHI.” Setsuna wasn’t looking at me, but his voice came like a whip-crack. I half-turned and saw him walk briskly to the woman, who knelt on the other side of the low table, a tea cup still clutched absurdly in one hand. Her face was so white she looked dead. Perhaps she knew she was already dead. “Itachi,” Sensei repeated as he handed her the knife, “do what you came to do.” To the woman, he bent nearer and whispered, “Kill yourself.”

I sucked in a deep breath, turning back to the boy lying prone in front of me. He lay with his face turned to the side. A stray lock of hair curled over one cheek. It’s strange how you notice these things when you’re clasping a blade between your sweaty fingers.

I stabbed him once. In the left arm, where he could bleed to death if left too long but he would not die immediately. I did it at that moment because

I did not want to watch the boy’s mother die.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:14 pm

“Sensei, your eyes . . .”

“Now is not the time, Itachi,” he snapped.

We were running again. The sound of explosions and men shouting echoed through the stone halls; Akito’s and Kabuto’s diversions had already begun---in two separate places, to heighten the confusion they generated. I heard the sound of footsteps---light, shinobi footsteps coming toward us around a corner---and Setsuna grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out a window after him. We landed crouched on a roof below, then took off at breakneck speed along its peaked ridge, careful not to step hard on any of the tiles and break them. We had run into an unforeseen complication: Gyoichi had hired some of the Fuma Clan---an independent shinobi clan located in that part of the Fire Country. Unlike the clumsier guards, other shinobi could easily pursue us---especially shinobi who knew the terrain better than we did.

When we finally regrouped with our teammates, just inside the fortress walls, we found Kabuto and Akito locked in a standoff. Kabuto stood facing two shinobi opponents, one of whom held Akito with chakra wires about his throat. I knew just how quickly one could kill one’s target with that technique, and I hurled four kunai as I landed on the ground, aiming to cut the wires. As Akito and his captor stumbled apart, the bugs that the Aburame Chuunin had been sending quietly along the wires now swarmed up his enemy’s fingers and arms and onto his face. Setsuna dispatched with the other Fuma ninja quickly; he was in a hurry. Then the four of us scaled the high walls and dropped down on the other side. We hit the ground running.

We had taken precious care to see that all who recognized us for the Leaf-nin that we were ended up dead. All that remained was to get clear of the area to completely avoid discovery. This way, even though Gyoichi’s son and officials would surely surmise that Konoha had sent the assassins, there would be no witnesses and therefore no legalities. Technically, a Village is not authorized to kill the feudal lords of its country. That law exists because civilians fear us even as they use us to avoid sullying their own hands. They fear shinobi acquiring positions of political power. But in the case of this mission, all the Fire Country’s feudal lords agreed assassination was necessary, and so long as we left no witnesses they were willing to look the other way where the law was concerned. Brutal, but necessary.

At the time, however, I didn’t know that the part where we forced the son to kill the father was not part of the mission. Setsuna lied---a lie that cost the boy’s mother her life and the boy his mental stability. My Sensei lied because there was much he stood to gain if a weak boy inherited Gyoichi’s lands.

There’s always a price.

We cleared the hills that ringed the torch-lit fortress and descended into the darkened fens beyond. That was where Orochimaru lay in wait for us. Don’t mistake me, though; I don’t mean to say he was hiding. He’s an arrogant man. He was standing in the middle of the road, facing the same direction as when we’d left him, with his arms still folded behind his back. He offered my Sensei an asp’s grin.

“It’s done, then, is it?” he remarked, as congenially as if what we’d just done was some D-ranked mission shoveling barn-dung. My whole body clenched with anger; I could not get the boy’s face out of my head, and this sneering bastard was laughing.

But my Sensei---whom I had never in my life known to kneel before anyone---sank to one knee in a crouch, with one fist planted on the earth, in the manner of a servant before his master. “I’ve fulfilled the requirements you asked of me. I’ve earned my place among you.”

At the time, I had no idea what he meant by this.

The sneering stranger, however, did. “You’re a prime candidate, to be sure,” he told my Sensei. “Uchiha Setsuna, of that prized clan. However . . . there’s one thing left to do before you join.” His gaze slid sideways, to me. “Kill that boy.”

I saw my Sensei reach for his kunai pouch and tensed. There was no hesitation in the hand that drew the knife. None at all.

Setsuna rose and flew at me.

He was swift, but I was just as swift. Training with Shisui had made me fleeting as a shadow. I slipped between the kunai he threw easily. There were wires attached to the handles of each; he meant to trap me quickly and pull the wires tight, garroting my body until I burst. But my Sharingan eyes caught his trap early and I razed the wires apart with my shuriken.

I was almost on top of him when I realized the true nature of his trap. He had used the wires and the kunai as a feint, to lure me into close combat with him. I hurtled toward him, teeth gritted with the determination to end this before he could spring whatever jutsu his trap held.

He stopped me with his eyes.

The Mangekyou Sharingan was, to put it crudely, the Uchiha Clan’s dirty little secret. I don’t know if it still is---they may have burnt the scroll after what I did. I hope not, but it seems likely they would have while reeling from the horror. If you want to see what someone fears, mark well what he chooses to destroy. It’s a saying that we---the Akatsuki---use often.

To this day I don’t know the circumstances under which Setsuna acquired that advanced dojutsu. Looking back on it now, though, I judge his skill with it to be rather poor, or he would have used Tsukiyomi on me to incapacitate me fully. But he didn’t, and it saved me.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:15 pm

I saw the world melt around me and drip out from beneath my feet into an endless void. Really, my Sensei wasn’t very original. I knew immediately that the vision wasn’t real, even though it felt real enough because my skin was burning where it melted. Out of sheer determination I bit back the screams, so hard my tongue bled.

When next I returned to myself, I had sunk to my knees. Akito stood between Setsuna and I. His bugs had swarmed in our Sensei’s face, covering his eyes and breaking the contact. A kunai blade was embedded in my chest, just below the collar bone on the left side. Even with his vision was blocked, Setsuna’s blade had nearly found its mark. That was why he released the jutsu and let me go---he was trying to kill me, not torture me.

But I was still conscious.

“KABUTO!” Akito shouted, never once taking his eyes off our Sensei. “See to Itachi!” The insects were burrowing into Setsuna’s flesh, seeking to damage the tenketsu lines to prevent him from using any of the formidable Uchiha ninjutsu against us, but Setsuna had somehow managed to produce another handful of kunai between the fingers of his left hand.

Fighting for breath against the tightness and the pain in my chest, I tilted my head forward and sideways and saw, out of the corner of my watering eye, that Kabuto had frozen. I had never seen that happen before, even though I had always known him to be one to hang back and analyze a situation before rushing in.

“K-Kabu---” I whispered, crawling toward him. I wanted him to take the knife out. Every time I exhaled the edges twisting fractionally inside me sent pain searing through the nerves of my stomach and neck and left shoulder. Setsuna’s kunai whizzed past me, behind me, grazed one ear.

I craned my neck and finally saw what Kabuto was looking at. The stranger who had started all this no longer seemed content to be a bystander.

Orochimaru convulsed like a man retching and fat snakes came roiling out his mouth. All of this happened so quickly I blinked twice and it was done. When his lips had closed behind the tail of the last, he stretched out his arms and the serpents coiled round and round them, slithering toward his hands. Then he lunged toward me, with greater speed than I’d expected of someone who’d seemed so complacent before. This time Kabuto moved, attempting to rush behind him to catch him off guard before he could reach me. Instead, one of the snakes torqued its body and went seething back up his arm, over his shoulder, and sank its fangs deep into Kabuto’s forearm when Kabuto’s knife was still inches away from Orochimaru’s neck.

Orochimaru was nearly upon me. I saw the eyes of the snakes, like cold diamonds, fixed on my face. I was weakening fast. But my Sharingan eyes also saw the chakra gathering in the snakes’ mouths, and knew that if I surrendered to this attack I would not survive. With the kind of strength that can only be born of desperation I wrenched the kunai from my own flesh and flung it at him.

I can hit a target in the dark. I can hit several at once, simply from perfect visual memory. And I can throw faster than an eye-blink. Between that snap of my wrist and when my enemy halted his rush, there seemed to have been no time elapsed at all. But a heartbeat’s span had passed, and I saw that he had withdrawn one snake-wound arm to catch my kunai in his fist, the point literally a finger’s away from the spot between his eyes.

Having bought myself time by stopping his charge, I scrambled backward on all fours, my mind already formulating plans of action.

Ten feet behind Orochimaru, Kabuto had sunk to his knees now. The snake still held him fast, though he quickly produced a knife in his left hand and was stabbing at it. The knife would not pierce the scaly hide.

While I had been preoccupied with Orochimaru, Setsuna caught Akito with chakra wires round the throat. My Sensei was enraged beyond reason; he was in pain and he was losing and he knew it, and he was determined not to die alone. He no longer cared who he killed. Or maybe he actually did still think he could kill me in that condition---with bugs eating away at his tenketsu---and was stupid enough to think Orochimaru would heal him afterward just as long as he did what he’d been told to do.

Whatever was going through Setsuna’s mind in that moment, while the insects ate his eyes, while the wires he wove tightened round Akito’s neck . . . it doesn’t matter any more. I killed him so quickly I was hardly aware of what I’d done until it was finished. A kunai blade driven into the vertebra at the base of the skull, severing vital nerves. I had pushed myself to my feet and rushed, with a strength that only comes from that deep core of something that transcends pain and weakness. My hand moved as if of its own accord, and my heart went empty and my mind went sharp and my vision went clearer than it had ever been before. The world sharpened as I drove the knife downward, as the crack came, as he dropped like a stone---a twitching, gasping, human stone.

When he hit the ground, with a thud that thundered and echoed in the caverns of my brain, time slowed down again to its normal pace. His fingers clawed at the earth where he landed. I tore my gaze from him quickly and severed the wires binding Akito. Akito slumped to his knees, gasping a slower, deeper countermeasure of breath over the horrid wet gurgling that whistled between Setsuna’s lips. I bent and helped my teammate to remove the last of the garrote from his neck.

That was when I realized Orochimaru was laughing. And that he had abandoned pursuit of me.

Slowly, I turned to him. A wide grin split his face. “Uchiha Itachi, wasn’t it?” he said lazily. “It seems you’ve robbed me of a disciple. Now you must give me another.”

My whole body was shaking---my child’s body, betraying me as I bled and swayed where I stood. I didn’t give him the satisfaction of replying---couldn’t have if I’d wanted to. I took one staggering step toward him, still clutching the knife I’d just used to kill my Sensei and save my comrade.

“Oh? You do want to kill me?” Orochimaru chuckled. “Well, you’re out of your league, boy. But let me let you in on a little secret. I wanted your Sensei dead as well as Gyoichi-sama. You’ve actually done me a favor. So I’m going to let you go. But first . . . kill one of your teammates.”

My vision was wavering. I fought with sheer willpower to keep my eyes focused. “One?” I croaked. My throat had gone dry as bone.

With the kunai I’d thrown at him he gestured toward Akito, who knelt beside me, and then toward Kabuto, who also knelt clutching his wounded forearm. I didn’t doubt there was strong venom in the snakes’ fangs; Kabuto’s forehead was beaded with sweat.

“Pick one,” Orochimaru told me, “and you and the other will go free. Here’s your chance to prove your worth. Here’s life and death. I lay it in your hands.”

I merely stood there, staring at him and hating him more than I’d ever hated anyone. My hatred was all I had left to fling at him. “Don’t ask stupid things,” I said hoarsely. “I don’t want to ‘prove myself’ in anyone’s eyes.” Even as I said it, I knew I was going to die there. And my mind, ever well-honed and resourceful, was offering me strategies for killing either Kabuto or Akito. Presenting reasons why I should choose each of them. Weighing human life like meat on a butcher’s scale.

My head reeled, and briefly I saw the world at a slant. I was going to lose consciousness soon, I knew.

What happened next I only remember as if it were a dream. It’s odd---I remember other even more terrible parts of my life so clearly I can close my eyes and watch them come to life . . . But not that night. Looking back, it’s almost like seeing myself from a distance, as if it were someone else forcing himself to remain upright while whispering No, no, I won’t, I WON’T. Charging. Fire jutsu burning empty air because the enemy already moved. Stumbling an about face to see him poised with my kunai at Akito’s throat. He had been waiting for me to turn around and see him, so he could show me how powerless I was. He ran his tongue along the flat of the blade, lapping up my blood.

My useless Sharingan eyes showed me where his hand would strike even before it did.

Akito died swiftly, in that dream.

I remained standing. Barely. No words to fling at him; there weren’t any.

Somewhere behind me, I heard Kabuto gasp, “Don’t kill me! Please! I’ll do what you say, just don’t kill me . . .”

Don’t kill me, he said. In that moment we’d ceased to be us.

I learned something from Kabuto upon hearing that: human beings are sacks of meat. In the end, they cry out for themselves and what they want and what they deserve because to them, that’s all there is. Kabuto, groveling, yammering something about his abilities, holding up his stricken arm. Disgusting.

“I give you both a choice,” Orochimaru told Kabuto and I, tossing our dead teammate aside. Akito’s body fell across Setsuna’s. “I’m letting you go. But someday I want you to join me. Once you’ve realized that even your mighty Konoha must still lick the boots of the civilian lords. Once you realize your precious clans are nothing but names to bind you to small-minded servitude. Come to me, when you’ve found the courage to piss on your meaningless ideals and do something that actually means something.”

Something in his speech was like the darker echo of my doubts. “Not . . . worthless,” I whispered, falling to my hands and knees. My head was growing lighter and lighter, and I could scarcely feel the dirt beneath my palms. But I had to defy him. If I didn’t, I was accepting that my doubts were true.

“Don’t try to judge me, stupid brat,” Orochimaru sneered. “You don’t even know what you are.”

“Uchiha,” I whispered. “Itachi. Son of---”

“Names,” he snapped. “Son, brother, student, Genin, Uchiha, boy. Labels. You won’t know yourself until you know your limits. When you realize your boundaries are far bigger than four Village walls. So think about that, Uchiha Itachi. Do you know what you can do? Do you really? You don’t yet. Go home, lick your wounds, comfort yourself with their lies about how the Village, the Clan is all there is.”

Crunch of gravel beneath his sandals. He left us there, crouched bleeding on the road. With him he took the bodies of our teammate and Sensei.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:18 pm

It was nearly a week before Kabuto and I returned to Konoha. We moved very slowly at first; Kabuto’s healing abilities saved us both, but I had lost a lot of blood and Kabuto a lot of chakra. When we’d recounted all that had befallen us to the Hokage himself, it was judged that we’d done well in the worst of all possible situations. I left the office after Kabuto, trying to ignore the way the Sandaime’s piercing stare followed me out. I worried him, I think. But he had nothing concrete to hold against me, so he did nothing.

As I made my way down the old, familiar streets of the Uchiha compound, shopkeepers and friends of the family alike stopped what they were doing to call out in greeting. I nodded to some of them; others I was too weary to respond to. My clothes, despite several attempts to scrub them clean, were deep-stained with blood---my own and Setsuna’s and Akito’s and, in smaller, darker blots on my sandals, that of Gyoichi’s son.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:19 pm

When I set foot on the threshold of my house, I saw my entire family sitting in the receiving hall, waiting for me. Sasuke sat beside my father, solemn-faced and tiny but obviously trying to imitate Chichi-ue’s dignified bearing. But when he saw me come through the door his face lit up, and he practically threw himself at me. I stumbled back a step, but he’d wrapped his arms around me so firmly I didn’t trip.

“Sasuke, Itachi is tired,” my father said sharply.

My brother pulled away from me and went to sit down again, biting his lip. I followed suit, purposefully sitting far away from him. It was as if the touch of his small hand on mine had burned me.

When you see too much red, the world goes colorless for a while, and takes a long time to brighten again.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:19 pm

I spoke very little of my experiences on the mission, though my proud relatives plied me with questions. In fact, I spoke very little at all. I began avoiding everyone, especially Sasuke. Seeing him smile at me so trustingly made me see the stray lock of hair, curled down over a boy’s cheek as he lay helpless on the floor.

And Setsuna’s and Akito’s deaths were problematic for Kabuto and I in more ways than one. We were a broken team. We threw ourselves into training, because despite our acclaim in Konoha requests for our services on missions weren’t exactly pouring in any more. In the grand scale of things, thanks to Orochimaru’s interference the mission had ended in blunder. Lord Gyoichi’s assassination wasn’t supposed to be traced back to Konoha, but it was. He’d somehow planted Setsuna’s body on the scene, and with a dead Uchiha in the hands of the Fuma Clan Konoha was forced to barter for the corpse’s return to protect the Uchiha bloodline. The cost: Gyoichi’s son, who succeeded his father, ordered the secession of his fiefdom from the Fire Country.

The Rice Country was born.

And without the protection of the Leaf, the new lord naively fell prey to Orochimaru’s lies. But that’s another story altogether.

The point is, our ‘blunder’ had cost the Fire lords a large chunk of the country.

Seeking to improve our positions, Kabuto and I took the next Chuunin Exam as a two-man team. I saved his life in the Forest of Death. He lost his match in the arena afterward. I was finally officially named Chuunin; Kabuto wasn’t. But he actually seemed sincere when he said he didn’t mind. I didn’t realize at the time, but he was even quicker to see the meaninglessness of titles than I was. He had decided ‘Chuunin’ was a name he didn’t need.

I was not as ready to think beyond the patterns of my life. Yet.

But I did have one very important question for my father. I had asked it twice before, and gotten no answer.

Chichi-ue, why were Setsuna-sensei’s eyes different?”

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:19 pm

My father did not answer my question immediately. I think . . . by that point . . . not only was he afraid for me---he was afraid of me. He knew very well what the Mangekyou Sharingan was, and how it could be obtained. So he looked down into the face of the ten-year-old boy who had killed Uchiha Setsuna and said, “That dojutsu is something you will learn about when you’re older.”

I misunderstood him at the time. I thought he meant I would ‘learn’ the dojutsu from him, as if the Mangekyou were something all adult Uchiha knew how to work. My instruction concerning that technique and the complete and utter disillusionment that came afterward would not occur for another two years. In the meantime, however, I was beginning to be resentful---truly resentful---for the first time, after I’d returned from the Rice Country mission. I had become an assassin and lost two comrades all at once. Achievement of Genin and Chuunin rank should have been enough to prove me in my father’s eyes, and if not for the sake of those then suffering should have been enough. But for all I’d suffered and seen, for all the new strength I’d acquired, it was never enough.

My father kept me at an arm’s length, and watched me carefully.

It seems a simple thing, I suppose, to say I was being watched. But think about it: do you know what it’s like to have those who are supposed to be more powerful than you begin to look at you with wariness in their eyes? To be a child and to realize you somehow have the power to unnerve? I wasn’t stupid, and after what I’d been through in the Rice Country I knew I was drawing near to being as strong as my father. I kept training, and growing . . . and still I saw no limit in the near future.

What I learned from my father’s wariness was to be afraid of myself.

There were only two people, at this point in my life, who looked at me without wariness. The first was Shisui. The second was Sasuke.

Sasuke . . . worshipped me. I’m not sure when it began. Shisui noticed, on the rare occasions he accompanied me to my training grounds, that Sasuke was trailing me and hid to watch me practice. “Itachi, you’ve got a shadow,” he remarked. I’d noticed, too, but hadn’t tried to make a great deal of it. I started trying to leave the house more quietly after that, and made a new training area that I kept secret. But Sasuke, to my surprise, found me again.

Eventually I stopped trying to hide. I called out to him, so he didn’t have to crouch in trees until his knees grew stiff to watch me in secret. Once, he sheepishly admitted to me, he’d even knelt on an anthill when he was hiding in the bushes and went home with welts all over his shins.

He was fascinated by my strength. He wanted to know what I wanted to do with it.

He wanted to know how he could grow up to have it.

Sasuke was just like me in that respect. He really was my shadow. I let him watch me, though I never directly invited him to come---I left it up to him to figure out when and where I was going. And I didn’t mind when he asked me stupid, childish things, because I saw in him my past self---the Itachi who hadn’t yet killed a boy in the Chuunin arena, or become an assassin. Sasuke had the cruel honesty of the innocent; some of his questions made me question myself.

It was ridiculous that my father didn’t pay much attention to my brother. Sasuke had such a hunger for strength. And for truth. But my father saw only me, with my strength and my cold heart. He was too determined to make me a leader.

One hot summer day after sparring with me, my father stepped back, sweating, and told me gravely that he’d taught me everything he knew. There was pride written plainly in his stance; he clasped his hands behind him and faced me straight-backed and level-eyed like a man does his equal.

“Now it’s up to you to use it wisely,” he told me, nodding acknowledgement. “You’ll make a fine leader.”

My father never once told me that I must also become a good man.

Of course, good and evil are created by the simple, the fearful. Power transcends everything---every shinobi knows this instinctively. I was beginning to understand that.

I was growing rapidly at that age, approaching Shisui’s height and beginning to fill out. My shoulders became too broad for my clothes; we bought new ones. And I knew instinctively, with the wordless intuition of the young, that I was meant to keep growing to fill out the dimensions of a greater life. How could my father tell me proudly that I had reached the height? I had barely begun.

My breath caught in my throat after his pronouncement. I wanted to shout, This can’t be all there is! There must be more! But my cold, rational self---so adept at reining in those impulses---moved my lips, and I found myself asking, “Wasn’t there something else? Another dojutsu?”

My father grew curt and tight-lipped, and his only response to my question was, “One more year, and you’ll be old enough to know about that.”

I was eleven.

After that day, I kept training obsessively. There had to be more. Kunai could fly with greater accuracy. Sharingan eyes could see more clearly. Desperate to keep the mind growing and changing so I didn’t become bored and stagnant and dead.

One day I returned from training to find what seemed like my entire clan waiting for me, seated in our receiving hall. All in rows, as if there were a funeral. But there was no shrine at the head of the room, and no incense. Instead, there was a scroll. My father held it.

“Come, Uchiha Itachi,” he told me, beckoning me to him. He said it proudly, but there was a set to his jaw even grimmer than usual, and I approached with misgivings. “You’re twelve years old now, and a man in our eyes. It’s time you learned the secrets of the clan.”

When he told me this, I went to him without hesitation. It’s fair to ask, I suppose, that if someone had told me then that my innocence was about to be lost forever, would I have accepted the scroll? My head was full of questions then, and I was in no state of mind to refuse answers. So yes, I would still have accepted the scroll. Because the truth was important.

And the secret. Of course, the secret . . .

Konoha, champion village of the Fire Country, was not originally governed by a Hokage. When the village was first formed, there was only a council of representatives from each founding clan. But there were two men---the heads of the two most powerful clans---who felt that the strongest should lead the others. One of these men was a Hyuuga. Great dissent arose in the council. Breakout violence, or even civil war, seemed inevitable.

That was when, and why, the Uchiha were created. Created. Bred. Engineered. The clan opposing the Hyuuga did this in secret, using the genes of their rivals to create an even stronger clan.

I read with no expression on my face, but as I did something inside me began to burn.

Why were the Uchiha created?

Why was I created?

Our purpose?

My purpose?

The Uchiha were born to become stronger than Konoha’s strongest clan. To rule the village.

But we were a failure.

We couldn’t compare with the Hyuuga. War did break out, between the two great clans, and the Uchiha were caught between. Many died, because we weren’t strong enough to be used for our intended purpose. And afterward . . . the two clan leaders fought one-on-one, at the Valley of the End. The Hyuuga leader died. His rival became Hokage. And the Uchiha, whom he’d created, became his watchdogs. We became Konoha’s policing force, and established our name and our place in the new government. The first Hokage treated us as an honored clan, and we became wealthy.

But every time there was a war, we were sent to the front lines. And the Hyuuga, Konoha’s trump cards, were guarded like hothouse flowers.

Our clan had a secret: a terrible secret, developed by the first Hokage during his conflict with the Hyuuga. When he saw that the Uchiha weren’t strong enough to win him his war, he found a way for us to become more powerful. Stumbled upon it by accident, while experimenting. I won’t speak of the nature of those experiments---they were disgusting. Demeaning. During one of them, an Uchiha man rebelled and killed one of those overseeing the experiment. She was a woman he’d once loved.

He went insane with grief. For months, he was like a man with no soul, except in sleep, when he raved like a madman. And then . . . he returned to himself. And his Sharingan was changed. Members of the first Hokage’s clan---the ones who had created the Uchiha---wanted to develop the Mangekyou Sharingan to use against the Hyuuga. They were ruthless and shrewd, with the foresight to see that strength is everything. But when their clan leader achieved his goal, becoming the Ichidaime, and he changed. He felt the eyes of all Konoha on him, and sensed that if he couldn’t make them forget his past brutality they would overthrow him. The new government was soft, after all. Letting old men and women make our laws; sitting peaceably at a table while they sent shinobi out to die in strange lands.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:20 pm

Thanks to the Ichidaime, the Mangekyou Sharingan became forbidden. Knowledge of it was banished, except to be used as a warning to Uchiha boys coming of age. With it, I understood, the Uchiha could have been stronger than the Hyuuga. We could have been gods. But Konoha’s laws forbade it.

And the stupid, blind Uchiha forsook it for the sake of peace.

As I stood there, rooted to the spot, holding the scroll, I began to realize for the first time the depth of that stupidity.

Why? Why? I pretended to still be reading, but my eyes saw nothing. My ears rang with silent questions. What am I doing? Why do any of this? Why fight to protect when we’re nothing but tools?

“Itachi,” my father said. He reached for the scroll. Took it easily because my fingers had gone numb.

“Now you know the secret,” my uncles said to me. “Now you are truly an Uchiha.”

They were telling me: Now that you know the height you could have reached, you must abandon all hope of reaching it.

Afterward, when they left me alone at last, I went to my room and tore up the scroll where I’d once written down the Yondaime’s words. Protect? Serve? Is nobility just an easy way to die? Bits of shredded paper fell around me like snow. The clan! The clan! Damn them for their cowardice! Let them take their secrets straight to hell!

I was never the same again.

I began to hate everything around me. It was like a slow-working potion, poisoning everything familiar until I could no longer see it, taste it, feel it. As it had after the assassination, the world’s color faded to black and white.

I trained. I ate. I spoke, and no one was the wiser. But inside I burned. Instead of becoming numb and dead as I had after the assassination, I let the slow hatred fill me. And it suffused me with strength, like chakra itself.

Sasuke sensed it, I think. He followed me everywhere, wide-eyed and smiling shyly because even though he loved me he was nervous of me.

Once, after a particularly long practice, he became overly excited and managed to sprain his ankle. I carried him home. On the way, we passed the station where our father worked. As we passed I felt Sasuke’s heart skip a beat against my back and came to a halt.

“What is it?”

“This is where our father works, right?”

“This is the headquarters of Konoha’s police force,” I explained.

He asked me why it bore our symbol on its sign-block. It was like a needle in my gut.

I swallowed my bitterness and gave him the appropriate explanation. But I also said, “The only ones who may judge the crimes of shinobi are superior shinobi.” I was telling him that by right the strongest rule. What I wanted to say was that the Uchiha were weak because they chose to be, and so others ruled over them.

“Are you gonna join too?” he asked.

Ahead of him, where he couldn’t see, my face went dark. “Hmm . . . maybe.”

And why not? I thought, with a viciousness that surprised even me. After all, aren’t I also destined to bow to the destiny of my clan?

“You should!” he chirped in my ear. “When I grow up, I want to join the police force, too! For tomorrow’s entrance exam, ‘tou-san’s gonna come too. It’ll be the first step to realizing my dream.”

His skinny little-boy-arms tightened round my shoulders. There was such fervor in his voice, such naïve earnestness, that it jolted me from my resentment. I hadn’t realized until that moment just how much my creature he was. Sasuke wanted to join Konoha’s policing force because he thought I did. If I’d told him then what I was really thinking, I believe he would’ve accepted it and changed his mind in a heartbeat. Because he loved me.

It was like I was seeing him for the first time.

That day, my father met us and hurried us home. He wanted to accompany me on my next mission, and he seemed excited. I wanted none of his excitement. So I reminded him that Sasuke was entering the Academy, and threatened to forego the mission to attend the ceremony. I knew my father well. All it took was a subtle reminder not to neglect Sasuke and he surrendered to guilt. And I’d gleaned from his behavior that the mission was something very important. Some opportunity to earn me some new acclaim; the Uchiha constantly sought acclaim in the village. They used pride to distract themselves from what they could really do.

While my father oversaw my brother’s graduation, I embarked on the mission with a larger team than I was accustomed to---four other people. Kabuto, a Chuunin girl from the Inuzuka clan, and two Jounin. The Jounin were there to assess me for some reason; I didn’t know at the time they were considering me for Jounin rank. Thus it was left to me to lead the mission, despite my young age.

I won’t say much about the mission itself. It was dangerous; it required great mental and physical aptitude on my part. But what makes it worth mentioning at all is that I met Orochimaru. Again.

We met some heavy resistance from a renegade clan near the Cloud Country border. During the fight, I judged it best that my team separate and make for the trees, where as Leaf ninja we would have the advantage of terrain experience. Then I caught a glimpse of black, lanky hair, and a narrow, ghastly pale face, and without even considering the consequences I took off after him on my own. I didn’t want my comrades to witness me speaking to him. Or killing him. At the time, in my state of inner turmoil, I wasn’t sure which I wanted more.

He’d clearly intended for me to follow him, because after a while he came to a halt. He stood on the ground patiently until at last I descended from the high branches. He wanted us on even ground.

I stood before him a young man, shorter than he was but secure in my strength. And he . . . he looked different as well. He wore white robes tied with a purple obi such that they bulged round the middle, and upon his clothes he bore a crest I’d never seen before. I knew better than to think it was the crest of his former clan in Konoha.

“What is your reason?” I asked sharply. I was angry; I lacked the patience for preliminaries. I wanted to know why he’d sought me out again.

Orochimaru laughed, folding his hands composedly behind his back. “You’ve grown,” he observed. “You’ve already outgrown Konoha and its ideals. And everything around you makes you sick.”

I said nothing. Waited for him to answer what I’d asked.

“There’s an organization,” he said, “called Akatsuki.” He lifted his right hand and I saw he wore a ring on it. “We believe that the powerful are meant to rule. Not civilians, not feudal lords, but shinobi.” His slitted eyes gleamed. “Superior shinobi.”

I kept my guard, holding kunai lightly in each hand to throw if need be. “And you want me to join? Why?”

“Because you’re like me,” he replied, “and I’m like you. Or I will be.” He chuckled, seeming to make some kind of private joke. At the time I had no idea of his designs on the Uchiha bloodline limit, or that he used forbidden jutsu to change bodies. I was just tired of his riddles.

“And what is it . . . that you want from me?” I asked slowly. I knew better than to think he was doing this for me.

His smile grew slyer still. “I want the secrets of the Uchiha.”

“Why?” I asked. “What secrets we have are unique to our . . . blood.” I had just barely stopped myself from saying “breed.” We were a breed, after all. Like hounds the feudal lords breed for hunting.

“What I want from the Uchiha has nothing to do with you,” Orochimaru countered. His yellow eyes seemed to stare right through me. “Don’t pretend you care what happens to them. You want power and you want freedom.” His lips parted in a grin again. “We both know protecting the weak is a waste of time.”

He paused; my hands had clenched round the kunai. But I neither moved nor spoke. His words frightened me, but at the same time the anger gnawing at my heart burned my chest, compelled me to listen.

“You already know that people who don’t have strong desire are just bags of flesh. So what are the Uchiha to you?” When I didn’t answer, he laughed, short and sharp. “Heh. Well, I have a lot to do. If you won’t choose now, I’ll see you again, in the Rice Country.”

I flew at him. I hated his cryptic promises and I hated myself for wanting to believe them. I caught him by the shoulders and slammed him hard against the trunk of a tree. But he melted backward into the bark, slipping through my fingers as if he were a ghost. Laughing.

“What is your limit, Uchiha Itachi?” he asked. Then he was gone.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:21 pm

I regrouped with my team not long after. We returned safely to Konoha. Afterward, there was a report filed by all members in the presence of the Sandaime. We stood in his office in a row while he listened to us with fingers steepled thoughtfully beneath his chin.

I was distracted; I scarcely cared what they had to say about me. That is, until Hatake Kakashi turned to me and asked for my report on what had happened after we split up. He had a vague, nonchalant way of asking things, but the one dark eye with which he regarded me was shrewd and keen. I’d been wary of him from the moment we met, because he seemed wary of me.

I hadn’t prepared a lie, and I sensed Kakashi would catch any I invented.

Fortunately, Kabuto was an accomplished liar. “Our paths crossed soon after,” my teammate volunteered. “Itachi-kun saved my life.”

I stared at him. The smile he turned my way was so perfectly calculated that I knew I hadn’t been the only one to meet Orochimaru during the mission. And I knew Kabuto had accepted Orochimaru’s offer, because he didn’t even try to make his own performance sound impressive before the Sandaime. He’d accepted the snake’s offer in his heart long ago, and he had no use for pride.

Kakashi was still suspicious of me. I was curious because I knew he was someone my father disliked, but during the mission I’d made no effort to speak with him beyond what was required. As a genius, I was wary of geniuses---especially geniuses my father disliked. Setsuna-sensei had taught me that the powerful care only for themselves---a lesson I never forgot.

But Kakashi’s mistrust was to have no profound effect on me. The panel named me Jounin, and Kabuto and I were secure in our lie. My father was proud. Everyone was so proud of me, they didn’t notice the torment I was in.

“What is your limit, Uchiha Itachi?”

Orochimaru’s question haunted me.

Orochimaru is honest to a point that transcends anyone I’ve ever known---and his honesty is too cruel for people to accept as truth, so they brand him evil and criminal and twisted and any label they see fit to use for an excuse not to listen to him. Even I---at an age where I was simultaneously haunted by doubts and determined to silence them---could not deny that his words rang of truth . . . such truth . . . I couldn’t forget them. There’s something about a question that rings truer than an answer; it challenges wisdom without presuming to be wise. To me, his question was a catalyst.

I began to question everything.

It was like a return to my childhood, when my head rang with ceaseless “Why?” Only now . . . the questions were cold and bitter, and I asked them only in my head.

It robbed me of sleep. That, perhaps, was the worst pattern I could’ve started. It made what was going on inside my head begin to show on the outside. That was dangerous, because it made my father forget his pride and begin to watch me more closely again.

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PostSubject: Re: Fan fic   Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:21 pm

It wasn’t long before I was approached by ANBU and informed that they wanted me. I welcomed the opportunity to get out of the village, where the walls of my clan quarters had gone colorless, so I agreed to undergo their tests.

It wasn’t long before the extra training on top of missions put too much strain on me. I began to do rash things.

One afternoon, I was training in the woods. I’d set up targets all around me, pointing toward me like a host of round Sharingan eyes.

I had just flung kunai toward them and settled to my feet after an intricate series of mid-air flips when I caught a glimpse of gray hair and glasses out of the corner of my eye. I landed in a crouch, wheeling about on the balls of my feet and balancing myself with the fingertips of both hands touching the dirt.

“Kabuto-kun, why are you here?”

I asked it calmly, but inwardly I resented that he’d found my secret training ground. Except for when missions required teamwork, I’d been avoiding Kabuto increasingly since the assassination incident.

“Looking for you,” he replied, sun-spots dancing on his shoulders as he moved further into the clearing. “I’ve come to tell you about the prestigious mission you’re being offered.”

I stared at him. Kabuto was always hard to read. I never liked him.

But the air around him wavered, and the next thing I knew I was staring at a tall sixteen-year-old boy, lean but well-muscled, the back of his hair cropped haphazardly while the front still flopped rakishly across his forehead. His eyes were red with the Sharingan, but he was grinning at me.

“Shisui,” I greeted him, nodding soberly. He’d fooled me and we both knew it. Our clan had even nicknamed him “Shisui of the Mirage,” he’d become so talented with genjutsu.

“I seriously did come to tell you something good,” he informed me. “They’re considering you for ANBU.”

I nodded, offering a faint smile. “Oh.”

His grin lessened. “Congratulations.” I could practically smell the jealousy on him, but for my sake he just stood there, waiting for me to say something. The line between love and hate is sometimes paper thin.

“Thank you,” I replied, without feeling. There wasn’t much else to say. With my recent promotion to Jounin rank, I’d achieved everything by twelve years that most shinobi spent a lifetime chasing after. Being inducted into ANBU only served to show me just how empty I was. I had everything.

And I had nothing.

But Shisui didn’t understand that. My stillness and lack of enthusiasm were getting on his nerves.

“Well? Aren’t you happy?” he asked, a bit too loudly. I rose slowly from my crouch, eyeing him with interest. He was more irritated than I’d thought.

“Uncle’s proud of you, you know,” Shisui reminded me. “You’re a promising heir to us. You don’t have anything to worry over.” A pause. “Say something! You always go off on your own, like you think the world’s against you. Well, it’s not! You’re being handed everything you could want!” Then he stopped himself, raking his fingers through his hair and looking away from me. “Shit, I didn’t mean it like that.” He still sounded like he meant it. He started pacing. His feet swished through the grass as he moved closer to me.

Was he angry? Well, so was I. I wanted to see what we could make with our anger.

“Why don’t we fight, then?” I asked him, my eyes flaring red. “Show me what strength is.”

But I’d made a mistake, challenging him like that. There was too little familiarity in my voice, and too much curiosity in the tilt of my head---too much detachment. It scared him. He grabbed me by the shoulders so hard his fingers dug into my upper arms and left bruises.

“What . . . the HELL is WRONG with you?” he snarled between clenched teeth. He looked as if he wanted to embrace me or shake me until my teeth rattled. But I stared at him coldly, waiting. When you lock hatred away inside is that it sears you, eats you, until you’re paper thin and you want everything you touch to burn. Shisui could see through to the turmoil inside me, to what no one else could see because they wanted only to see that genius. Before my friend’s eyes, every role I played---Uchiha heir, Jounin, son, brother, prodigy---all these fell away, and he saw Itachi. I loved Shisui in that moment.

And I hated him. Because what he saw confounded and frightened him. Because I couldn’t bear my wretched self to be naked before another’s judgment.

“I don’t know myself,” I told him, my voice ragged and thick. “What I’m meant for. Why I am. But no one here knows themselves. Not you. Not Chichi-ue, not the Uchiha. We serve and we protect. We die! And none of it means anything!”

He let go of me roughly, shoving me a few feet away from him. “Is that what you think?” he demanded. “That our lives are worthless? Genius, my ass! You’re a damned moron. You go on missions, and they matter. You eat dinner with your family, you have a brother who worships the ground you walk on, and that matters too. You and me, standing here, that matters!”

“Do you know what it means to reach the height?” I snapped. “Do you? Does anyone?”

He didn’t. And when I tried to put my frustration into words I failed miserably, leaving him confused and worried. “Stop looking for some great meaning to the world we’re in,” he finally said, shaking his head in disgust. “If you think too much, you’re bound to hate yourself. You’re just running in circles, and anyone with eyes can see it’s wearing you out.” He turned away from me and began to head off toward the village. Giving up on me.

The Uchiha crest, emblazoned on the back of his shirt, glared at me like a target.

A horrible thought occurred to me.

“Shisui. Is my father making you keep an eye on me?”

I saw him shake his head, but I knew he wasn’t really denying it.

“Get some sleep, brat,” he admonished gruffly. “You look like hell.”

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