Author: dmnq8 PM
1902, New York. Danger and intrigue surround him on all sides, but at the heart of a perilous game of cat and mouse, Uchiha Itachi learns the meaning of surrender. Yaoi. Neji/Ita. AU. Sequel to Save Me. Disclaimer in my profile. For Garmiet.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Neji H. & Itachi U. - Chapters: 15 - Words: 122,012 - Reviews: 306 - Favs: 97 - Follows: 140 - Updated: 12-05-12 - Published: 05-11-11 - id: 6981773
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: So. Last summer, when I posted the first chap of Save Me, there followed a period of about 2 months before the second chapter was posted. I will try to update this on a weekly basis as I later did with Save Me, but expect a slow start, just like last summer. Tons on my plate. I'm slowly but surely working through my WIPs, but please continue to be patient.
This chapter is short, I know. There will be more detail in later chaps, I promise. That said, I would like to mention here that I will strive to give this fic an authentic feel of turn of the century New York.
Itachi stood in his room, arms tightly crossed, as he stared out at the heavily falling snow. He saw none of it, instead replaying in his mind the events of yesterday and the subsequent sleepless night.
"There's a woman here," Neji had walked into his den and announced. "She walked right in, says she's your mother? And…there's a man with her."
Itachi was already walking around his desk and out of his den. His mother? She hadn't sent any word ahead telling of her arrival. Come to think of it, he hadn't had a letter from her in over five months. He'd had no idea where she was. It had crossed his mind that perhaps she'd fallen ill and died. And what man was with her? Itachi quickened his pace, feeling Neji move silently at his back.
His mother was standing calmly in the foyer, holding the arm of a man Itachi's own morally corrupt father had warned him about.
"Itachi, son," Mikoto said in her low voice. "I'd like you to meet my husband and your new father. He'll be running this family from now on."
Itachi stared hard his 'step-father' as he came forward.
"Uchiha Madara," this man intoned by way of a greeting. His eyes moved to the tall shadow standing in the entryway, correctly assessing any and all possible threats in his vicinity. "I'll want to see all your accounting books as soon as your servant there has brought me and my bride a pot of tea."
There was a glint in Madara's eyes that Itachi instinctively interpreted as a lack of humanity. This was one threat to his life he wouldn't be able to escape by staging his own death.
The tea had been brought. Madara insisted on it being served in their best China. He'd further ordered Itachi to sit in front of him as he sipped. Mikoto sat to his left and slightly behind him. Her head was bowed, her hands folded demurely in her lap. Neji stood behind Itachi's shoulder.
"Your servant now belongs to and works for me," Madara had informed Itachi. He grimaced at his tea. "This tea isn't hot enough. Bring another pot." He waved at Neji to remove the tray.
Itachi had neither confirmed nor denied Madara's assumption that Neji now worked for him. The man would learn soon enough that he was wrong. Sooner, since Neji chose to display his loyalty without hesitation and remain standing where he was. Itachi had to cover his mouth to hide a wayward smirk. He mastered himself quickly, as he crossed his legs in his chair. "Madara."
Madara quirked one brow at the lack of respect.
"It seems you're under the impression that you can take control of the Uchiha fortune simply by marrying my mother."
"I can and have," Madara stated. "Fugaku left a will stating that his wife was to receive control of the family's money and property upon his death. As he is dead, the fortune and business have passed to her. She has, quite correctly, signed them over to me."
Itachi's face froze in a mask of fury. "My father would never have done such a thing. Control of the family's interests pass to me upon his death, if he is in fact dead. Regardless, several family members have come together and voted me into the position of Patriarch. You-"
"I assure you, he is dead," Madara said mildly. "I had him killed myself, just as I had him alter his will before I did so. I've already sent a copy, along with proof of your father's death, to the proper authorities and your lawyer. I imagine he'll be contacting you some time during the next few days. Incidentally, it was my men who voted you into office. I saw you as a suitable temporary custodian while I dealt with your father. He proved most stubborn, or I would have been here much sooner."
Itachi felt ice course through him, but he controlled his shudder. His father had been alive? Alive and tortured. He hadn't loved his father, but it wrenched to know how he'd suffered before his death. He looked at his mother's lowered face. "You were never traveling with a female companion, were you. You were with this monster. How could you marry him after he tortured Father for control of the family? Did he force you?"
Madara laid a hand on her knee. Apparently, this was a signal she understood; she didn't answer Itachi. "As I was saying," Madara continued. "You were able to take partial control while I was seeing to Fugaku, but now I'll need you to hand everything over to me. I have the documents here for your signature." He reached into the breast pocket of his suit.
Itachi eyed the folded papers, noting that they were heavy with their superior quality and emblazoned with the Uchiha family crest. "If my mother has signed over the majority of our assets to you, what could you want with my share?" And why hadn't his lawyer informed him of the take over, he thought but didn't say.
"I must have everything in order to run the family smoothly."
"The family is running smoothly, under my care."
Madara's eyes were hard. "Sign the papers, Itachi. It really would be best for all involved."
Itachi met Madara's eyes unflinchingly. "I refuse."
The evening hadn't ended there of course. He'd been politely informed that he could be persuaded, as his father had, to see the error of his ways. Neji had calmly stepped in front of him at that point.
Madara had studied this development. "A Hyuuga. An exile, no less, if you are the one I suspect you are. No one will miss you when you disappear," he'd said to Neji.
Itachi had stood and put a light, restraining hand up in front Neji. "I've heard enough. Madara, I will be contacting the proper authorities in the morning. I suggest you take yourself off my property before then. My mother stays. Try to coerce me into anything, in any way, and you will regret it." He'd turned for the door, Neji backing out of the room after him.
"How is Sasuke? My informant tells me they are in Panama. He was on Destiny when it left New York on the first of the year. Don't worry to try warning him," Madara said when Itachi whirled from the door, eyes wide. "I have people in Kakashi's office, whom that Naruto character is associated with, and in various places in Panama. Any one of them can take Sasuke out at the slightest word from me. And if you don't sign over your share of this family to me I will do just that. I doubt that thick-headed brute he's living with will be able to protect him, either. My men are trained in Japan, in the old ways. He'll never see them coming."
Itachi had stood in the doorway, shaking and speechless, until Madara had smiled and given him permission to leave. "Sleep on it," Madara had said. "I'll expect to hear from you in the morning."
It was an hour before dawn now. He knew the rustle of movement behind him to be Neji without turning around. He turned anyway, and found that his assistant cum servant, usually fastidiously groomed, looked as haggard as he himself felt.
During the past year his relationship with Neji had grown to something more than that found between master and servant, yet it still fell short of actual friendship. Likewise, he was more than an assistant. He liked to think of Neji as his right-hand man. Someone beneath him in station, but whom he felt comfortable sharing business confidences with on occasion. The barrier between employer and employee wasn't set aside quite enough for them to share tea or laugh together, but after Sasuke, Itachi liked to think the closest person to him was Neji.
Despite the inexplicable tension that passed between them on occasion, he felt comfortable enough now to speak plainly. "I've been sick with worry. About Sasuke being unprotected," he said to Neji's frown of confusion. "Sasuke himself has told me how he was able to best Naruto on numerous occasions. Madara's right, he can strike at Sasuke and neither Naruto nor my brother will ever see it coming, even if I warned them. Sasuke's…somewhat innocent, even if he can defend himself. I have no choice but to give in to Madara's demands. At which point he'll probably have me and Sasuke killed anyway. Not that I'd be taken easily." He pinched the bridge of his nose as he sighed. He'd argued with himself over this the entire night.
Neji walked into the room and closed the door. He could tell his employer was in dire need of comfort. He thought carefully of what he could say to him. Some of the truth, but by no means all. "Sir, forgive me, but you don't know Naruto the way I do. He's never seriously tried to fight Sasuke. He doesn't know any skilled combat, true, but he won't be easy to get past. Not if he's warned that Sasuke is in danger. Real danger. He'll crack this world in two trying to protect him. If anyone ever made it through Naruto and got to Sasuke it would only be as they were stepping over Naruto's dead body. Still, you're right, Sasuke's in danger. That's why I've sent a telegram to Naruto."
Itachi felt the tightness in his chest, a feeling he'd carried since hearing Madara's threat, loosen. He let out a breath that dropped his chin on his chest as relief flooded him. Neji never lied. If he thought Naruto could protect Sasuke then Sasuke was safe. "You truly believe my brother will be all right?" he asked in a low voice.
"Yes." Neji took a step closer to Itachi, lifted a hand to touch his forearm, then lowered it instead. The man's worry pulled at him. "If Naruto is forewarned, Sasuke can have no greater protection." Which wasn't completely true, but he needed his master to be clear-headed. He debated telling Itachi more, of who else he'd sent a telegram to, but decided that now was not the time.
Itachi looked up and found Neji standing very close. It occurred to him that his assistant was a very complex man, indeed. "You've had no sleep this night either, have you? I don't know what I'd do without you, Neji. You should have a care with your own life. Madara has threatened you too."
"And you," Neji reminded him. "Trust me, if Madara thought he could handle me, I'd be dead already. He's obviously been having us all watched. He could have had me killed on any number of trips you sent me on. No, he knows that to get too close to me would have alerted me and been bad for him. He probably knows I'd spot an ambush as well. And he knows he can't get to you so long as I'm around, or he would have simply kidnapped you; if he wasn't afraid to have your father kidnapped from a jail cell, surrounded by policemen, he wouldn't bat an eye at taking an unarmed man from the secrecy of his house. He knows Hinata is here too, or he would have used her to threaten me further. The fact that he didn't, and that he didn't mention her, means she's an unknown to him." Or it meant he suspects something about her. "Sir, trust me, you're safe with me. From attempts on your life, at any rate. As for the rest…" Neji shrugged, staring at Itachi intently.
The sun was starting to come up. Itachi's mind spun with all Neji had said. "Yes. As to that, you will need to verify his statements, see if he's given documents to the authorities, as he's claimed. Would it be possible to discover how far into the family his influence reaches? I want to know who his men are."
"That will be easy, but I don't think I should leave your side, sir."
"Are you to be my bodyguard as well as my assistant and servant, then?" Itachi tiredly rubbed the back of his neck. "I can handle myself."
Neji refrained from saying anything to the contrary. He could tell that Itachi still believed himself relatively safe in his own home. He probably thought that Madara, having drunk tea and behaved like a gentlemen, wouldn't stoop to base brutality. Neji, however, knew better. He could see very well that Madara was a common thug in a suit, nothing more. Thinking of how he could possibly protect Itachi without offending him or disobeying his orders, he bowed shortly. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
Itachi scrubbed his face, brushed his own hair, and donned fresh clothing. He made it downstairs to find Madara sitting in his place at the head of the dining table, and placing food on a small plate for his mother, who took it with a murmur of thanks. Itachi sat at the other end of the dining table, far enough away from Madara so that the man would be unable to tamper with his food or strike at him without him seeing. He made sure to fill his plate only with food he saw Madara himself eating.
They ate in silence, trading glances from time to time. The air was strained and tense with leashed violence.
To Itachi's left sat an entire wall of windows that looked out on the snow-covered grounds of Uchiha Manor. He pretended to be engrossed in this picturesque scene as he ate. He refused to break the silence, or behave as if he were in anyway uncomfortable in his own home.
Itachi nearly choked at seeing Hinata glide into the dining room and calmly take up a position between himself and Madara, on the opposite side of the table from where his mother sat. "Ohayo," she greeted in a low, pleasant voice.
She was answered in Japanese by Madara and Itachi, and stared at openly by Mikoto. His mother's reaction was interesting. Itachi resumed eating after pouring tea for Hinata. So Madara hadn't told his wife there was another woman in the house? Very interesting indeed. Also interesting was the way Madara stared, while trying to appear as if he wasn't, at Hinata. He took in everything, Itachi saw, from her silk kimono, to her elaborately styled hair. In fact, he stared particularly hard at the many hair ornaments placed artfully in the thick black mass, as if he'd never seen them before. Itachi didn't know what there was to interest Madara about a few hand-crafted sticks placed in a woman's hair, but anything of interest to Madara must, of necessity, be of interest to him. He would look into it.
Madara glanced up now and then, looking at him or Hinata. "Your skulking servant is absent today." He forked a last bite of egg into his mouth.
Itachi refrained from commenting.
"Have you reached a decision?" Madara asked when he'd wiped his mouth with his cloth napkin. He sat back now to fix Itachi with his undivided attention.
"I told you my decision last night."
Madara picked up Mikoto's hand, which was resting on the table near her plate, and held it near his cheek. "And you're certain that is your final word? I would think you'd hate to lose more family members." He kissed Mikoto's fingers lingeringly, his eyes never leaving Itachi's face.
Itachi concentrated on keeping his expression neutral. It was as he'd suspected: his mother hadn't been killed when she'd signed over majority shares to Madara so that she might be present to threaten Itachi with. "You won't get away with this."
"I beg to differ. But since you've refused…"
Madara smiled thinly. He twisted his hand suddenly, sharply, and broke most of Mikoto's fingers. The crunch and snap of her slender bones had Itachi roaring to his feet, even as his mother screamed and collapsed from her chair. Itachi rushed to her side. Seeing his bowed head, Madara moved toward him, reaching into his breast pocket.
Hinata made a small movement.
Itachi, suddenly sensing the threat of Madara, looked up at the same time that Madara himself looked at Hinata. Itachi thought that perhaps he was hesitant to commit any questionable actions in front of a witness. Whatever the case, he saw the thin blade Madara had begun to extract returned to the inner pocket of his suit. Only then did Itachi look to see what Hinata had done.
She'd opened her fan, no more. It fluttered in tiny movements before her face. She wasn't even looking in their direction, but off through the wide windows of the dining room, at the white landscape of the Uchiha grounds. Her voice was soft and distant when she spoke.
"White, pure, clean, is snow.
Red, swift, sudden is violence.
Spots on the snow. Death."
Mikoto was weeping quietly, softly. In the relative silence that followed, Itachi saw Madara's body stiffen, as if Hinata's impromptu haiku had offended him. He spun and exited the dining room. Itachi was left to wonder just what it was that had happened.
"I must go," Mikoto stood suddenly, cradling her hand. Her legs seemed unable to support her. She leaned heavily on Itachi. "I must go to him. He will be angry if I linger here, I must-"
Itachi hushed her with a finger to her lips. "Mother, stop. You're speaking madness. You cannot think to go to him, look at your hand! What has you so terrified of him? I'm here, I won't let him harm you, and I will make sure he's gone as soon as I see to the validity of his words."
She pulled away from him. "I must go to him," she said again. She walked away unsteadily, refusing his help. He heard her making her way up the stairs, and swore in quiet frustration and fear. What hold did Madara have over his mother?
Itachi turned to regard Hinata, who was calmly sipping from her tea now. Neji was right. His cousin was an unknown to Madara, but that did not explain why he'd hesitated to commit more violence in front of her. After all, he'd already hurt his mother in front of her, hadn't he? And just why had Hinata opted to breakfast with them for the first time in months? He asked her this question directly.
"I'd heard there were guests," she answered in her melodious Japanese. "I did not wish to appear rude. Rudeness from a guest…the Hyuuga would lose face for such conduct. Excuse me, please."
Itachi was again left with his thoughts. It seemed to him that Hinata had not cared whether or not she appeared rude to him and Sasuke, so why did she care now?
He sent his butler to fetch the doctor for his mother, but the man never came back. When he went down to the kitchens to see if anyone had heard the butler return, he found him dining with the rest of the staff. Itachi questioned him sharply on his refusal to bring back the doctor or inform him that he'd returned.
"Begging your pardon sir, but we answer to master Madara now. He said no doctor was to be brought, that he'd tend to the mistress's hand himself."
Itachi was livid, but walked from the kitchen without a word. The humiliation was not to be borne! He'd already tried to see his mother but she and Madara were both closeted in her room.
It was inconceivable that such an untenable situation had cropped up so quickly. His life was neatly turned on its head, and there was nothing he could immediately do about it. His hands were tied until he knew the extent of Madara's interference and until he knew for sure that Naruto had gotten Neji's message. He spent the remainder of the morning and the better part of the afternoon in his den, gathering his copies of business contracts.
One thing he made sure to do, and that was to go to his safe and retrieve his pistol. He loaded it and kept it on his person.
Neji returned as evening was approaching. "The news isn't good," he began when he and Itachi were in Itachi's room. "The few people who appeared loyal to you are no longer around. Most have been stripped of their wealth and sent back to Japan. Some have been killed. All remaining Uchiha active in the family appear to be Madara's men. And the documents he's filed with your lawyer and such are legitimate. He is ruler of the Uchiha family, legally. All that stops him from having complete possession of the wealth and businesses is your share, which was twenty-five percent. Your father's share, which Madara now has, was fifty. He had your father state in his will that Sasuke's share, which is equal to yours, remain in Madara's possession until he inherits. Sasuke doesn't inherit until he's twenty-five, which is three years away. Right now, Madara has seventy-five percent of the Uchiha holdings."
"How did he get control of Sasuke's share?" Itachi asked furiously. "Last I knew it was in my safekeeping."
"He murdered, and threatened to murder, certain officials. There are quite a few in his pocket now."
"I don't understand. Why did he not murder his way into control of my share as well?"
"Most likely because you're an active arbiter of your affairs, sir. You would have noticed something right away, while Sasuke is not in control of his share yet."
Itachi dropped into his chair, suddenly exhausted. The coup against his father had been for nothing, then. He did not have control of the family, as he'd thought. "And you're certain that there are Uchiha loyal to me and Sasuke still?"
"In Japan, yes. I was able to find out that Madara has been in Hawaii for many years, coordinating this coup. Makes sense; a lot of yakuza activity takes place there."
"They have no power? If I brought them back…"
"I said they've been sent back, but their loved ones and children are in Madara's possession. He has them working as slave labor on Hawaii. Sir, there's more." Neji leaned closer and lowered his voice to a whisper. "I've heard rumors that he is here now because he is looking for something."
Itachi responded in kind. "Are you certain? Have you any idea what this thing could be?"
"No. But it is very important, enough so that Madara is killing people in order to get to it."
"Might not the thing have been my father? In which case, he already got what he wanted."
"I don't think so, sir. Apparently, your father was kept alive so long because he refused to tell Madara where this thing is."
Itachi was impressed. "Neji, how on earth did you find out so much in just one day?"
"I have contacts," Neji said absently. "Sir…what are you going to do? I'll stand behind whatever you decide. We could go to Panama and join with Sasuke, if you wish, or-"
"No." It was snowing again, Itachi saw. He studied the lazy spiraling of the fat flakes as he considered his situation.
Madara had complete control of the family and anyone loyal to Itachi. His mother was only kept alive as a way to sway his mind. Consequently, he could expect her to be hurt and injured on a regular basis. Madara had some hold over her that kept his resilient and notoriously calculated mother petrified. And at anytime Madara thought he could manage it, Itachi could be assured of a swift and merciless death. All that stood between him and this end, it seemed, was a servant and his own will to live.
"I'm surrounded by danger on every side," he murmured to the frosted window pane.
Itachi met Neji's concerned gaze. "I'm not going to Panama."
"Then what will you do?"
"I'm going to discover how it was my father kept the family out of Madara's clutches for so many years. He did so, and did it successfully, or Madara would have made an appearance long before now. My father was likely so hard on me and Sasuke because he knew Madara was out there. He tried to toughen us, to prepare us…" Itachi trailed off as he realized, finally, the meaning behind all the training, all the pain, all the demands to be ruthless. He turned back to Neji. "My father only warned me of Madara once. He showed me a daguerreotype of him. He said he would tell me more when I was older, but that time never came, I guess. No wonder my father was so corrupt. It was the only way to keep the family from Madara's clutches. I can't say he was much better than Madara, at that.
"But he was successful. I must learn how, Neji. I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer lies in whatever Madara is seeking. We will try to discover what that is before he does. Regardless, I'm not giving up this family to that madman. I will not be run out of my own home."