Chapter 40:

After the first of what was to be many spars with Aburame Muta, Itachi found his life taking up new patterns.

Two days after he awoke with his head pillowed on a muscular thigh with the gorgeous Aburame staring down at him, (if that was what he could expect upon waking, Itachi thought that he almost understood the temptation that some shinobi had to actually lose on purpose,) the Hokage called Itachi to his office.

Itachi had gone, expecting the conversation to be about the intel that he had provided, or possibly being reinstated onto the active list.

He was only somewhat correct.

"I've decided to assign you to teaching at the Academy, effective as of next term. If you have any questions, Fujioka Hitomi is the head sensei, and she will explain the basic curriculum requirements. Otherwise, you have been assigned to work beside a more experienced teacher, Umino Iruka," the Hokage said. "Umino has agreed to mentor you to ensure that you perform your duties to the Konoha standard."

Itachi stared. He was tempted to check for genjutsu, but he could detect chakra signatures from both Namikaze Minato and at least three familiar ANBU, so he was mostly sure this was actually happening.

"Mission accepted, Hokage-sama," he murmured, somehow managing to keep his expression professionally blank.

After that conversation, Itachi found that his feeling of being watched had increased tenfold. He supposed that was only fair. Sho had cleared him for light duties with an admonition to keep coming to see her on a regular basis, ("There is still a significant amount of work left for us to do, Itachi," she had said, "but I am pleased with your progress",) but it was one thing for him to be yet another mission-fatigued shinobi wandering around Konoha, and quite another to be deliberately putting him into close contact with impressionable pre-genin.

Or at least, he had thought that that was the problem, but it turned out that the story of how he had defended the children from Mizuki had done the rounds, and people seemed to like the idea of him being a permanent body-guard to the prospective genin. The fact that he was at least somewhat accountable for their psychological well-being had apparently given a few parents pause, but after all, it was generally acknowledged that Iruka was maybe one of the most stable chunin in Konoha's forces, so it was thought that his influence would be enough to balance out any of Itachi's "quirks".

Naruto was slightly disappointed that this meant that Itachi could not be his jounin sensei. Sasuke had bluntly (and a little bitterly) pointed out that Itachi was only a chunin, and so this would not have been possible anyway. Sakura had already been two steps ahead and had asked if it would be possible for the three of them to still train with Itachi on weekends when they did not have missions.

Itachi had managed to stifle a laugh. "How do you know that the three of you are going to be in a genin team together?" he asked quite reasonably. "The three of you are at the top of your year."

Naruto had scoffed. "I don't know if you've noticed," he said with uncharacteristic sarcasm, "but I've got an in with the Hokage."

Itachi and his fellow students had stared at him dubiously.

Naruto blushed, and then admitted that he had ("Accidentally, mind!") overheard Minato and Mikoto talking in private about the teams and so mostly knew what the planned distribution was going to look like.

Itachi was dubious that this was as accidental as claimed (albeit more likely that the Hokage had decided to obliquely reassure his son, or Mikoto had decided to obliquely reassure her son rather than Naruto deliberately managing to eavesdrop on mildly classified information) but had not bothered to say as much, because Sakura and Sasuke were more than happy to attempt to grind Naruto into the dirt over not sharing this information before now.

Sure enough, a few weeks later, and the three of them had graduated, and were put on a team captained by Nohara Rin. Which meant that Sasuke was in plenty of contact with her teammate Obito, who promptly proceeded to school his younger cousin in all the ways that the Sharingan was both the ultimate cheat and a ridiculous crutch. Itachi was still uncomfortable around Obito, but could tell that this version at least was only homicidal in the culturally acceptable ways and genuinely wanted to turn Sasuke into a more efficient killer for the sake of Konoha. That was a goal that Itachi could get wholeheartedly behind, and so he was content to ease back the amount of time he put into training Sasuke as opposed to simply spending time with him.

(Sakura started learning medical ninjutsu from Rin and promptly started progressing at a startling rate that was very quietly compared to 'that Kabuto boy who went bad, such a waste,' and more loudly compared to a young Tsunade. Naruto on the other hand found one of his mother's old books on sealing, and Minato promptly handed Kakashi a long-term mission to ensure that his son didn't blow his fool self up.)

To avoid any appearance of unfair bias, the Hokage had declared that Itachi would begin teaching after Sasuke's graduation (which to all and sundry was in zero doubt). In the weeks leading up to his brother's gradutation, Itachi spent a significant amount of time discretely lurking and watching the different Academy classes. At the end of each day he would talk to Iruka about his impressions. Judging by the expressions that Iruka made, Itachi's impressions were not coming from a perspective that Iruka was used to working with.

Itachi hoped that would not be an impediment to their working relationship, but considering that some of his questions about why things were taught a particular way had resulted in changes to the curriculum, he felt confident that continuing to ask for clarification until the thinking behind teaching various things a certain way made sense to him was worthwhile.

Oddly, Iruka had started to pay attention as to whether Itachi had eaten lunch or not, or looked tired. Itachi was unsure of the correlation between this and him asking why a few of the students from more upper-class civilian families found the idea of killing and eating animals for food (as they had to in order to pass the survival training unit where they all camped in the forest and learned about making smokeless fires and what mushrooms to avoid) to be so disconcerting. "My father had me killing rabbits as soon as I had the hand-eye coordination," Itachi had said.

"Itachi… how old were you when that happened," Iruka asked.

Itachi frowned thoughtfully. "I believe I was three and a half. Why?"

"And," Iruka looked like he was regretting asking, "how old were you the first time you took on a mission that required killing?"

Itachi had told him, and Iruka had asked if it was okay if he gave Itachi a hug. Itachi had not entirely understood this impulse, but decided that it might help him bond with his new mentor, and so had allowed it.

Later, after another spar, he talked about the conversation with Anko.

She had stared at him for a solid thirty seconds before saying that she was too sober to have this conversation with Itachi. Soon afterwards she was too drunk to have the conversation with Itachi. Itachi decided to let that the issue lie.

Soon after that, Itachi started teaching. To his slight surprise, the task was not as onerous as he had thought it would be. He found it was relatively easy to keep the class distracted from deliberately attempting to murder each other with their practice kunai, and extremely engaging to attempt to teach them how to avoid doing so accidentally. Other Academy sensei had asked him for tips in dealing with the Clan brats and frustrated geniuses, as apparently Itachi had a way with them.

Ever since Itachi had had a quiet word with Hyuuga Hanabi about the responsibility of every Konoha ninja to keep their comrades intact in the field, and that whilst her taijutsu might be good for her age that once she was out of the shallow pond of the Academy actually using those skills probably meant that at least one of her mission parameters had already been failed, and that to enemy ninja her status in her Clan would make her a target rather than an asset to any team, the Hyuuga heiress had been sitting in thoughtful, rather than scornful silence. Itachi had later spotted her almost politely interrogating one of her classmates about how they achieved their stealth scores, and heard one of the younger students from the Hyuuga Branch clan, Hyuuga Akira, telling their friends about seeing her trailing her elder cousin Neji. Apparently her father Hiashi had yet to say a word about this, even when Hanabi started practicing with ranged weapons in a fashion that looked rather reminiscent of Neji's teammate Tenten.

Hyuuga Hanabi was not one of Itachi's favourite students, (none of them could compare to the joy of teaching Sasuke and his team,) but he could admit he felt a small level of smugness over directing her into maybe being less of a pain to work with in future.

He said as much to Muta on one of their many dates, as they relaxed beneath a shady tree having just finished a take-out box of dango between them.

Muta had been a little amused. "I had often wondered if the Main Hyuuga line ego was unassailable. I suppose I should have known that it would take a member of a fellow-doujutsu using noble clan to know how to get through to them."

Itachi shrugged. "I have seen various members of my clan have similar difficulties to her. The fact that most Clan children receive education prior to the Academy tends to create a certain confirmation bias that many of them have difficulties in overcoming in regards to their relative abilities in comparison to their fellow students." He shook his head. "Succumbing to such an assumption is a weakness that leaves them with difficulties in building trust in their comrades, and blind spots as to their own fallibility. It could lead them to making grave errors of judgement that could be easily rectified by simply having the ability to confide in a fellow shinobi or kunoichi, who might be better able to provide important insight."

There was a long moment of silence after Itachi said that, as Muta contemplated this. Itachi was unbothered by Muta taking his time to respond to his statement. They were well enough acquainted by now that Itachi knew that Muta preferred to take his time before making remarks on any topic that verged on the deeply personal, so as to reduce the chances of miscommunication. He watched how the movement of the leaves caused the bright dapples of sunlight to appear to dance across the ground beneath them. Itachi felt as though that might be a metaphor for his life, but could not yet articulate how.

"I do believe," Muta said shrewdly after a while of silent contemplation, "that it is not just vicarious learning which provided you with this insight of the perils of, as I have heard some of the genin say it, 'falling for your own hype'."

Itachi looked up from his study of the shadows and grimaced. His conversations with Sho had revealed how badly he had been failed by not having a teacher ever point out to his child self that no matter how good a killer he was, 13 and emotionally compromised was most certainly not a state in which one could expect to be able to make good decisions.

Like oh, say, what to do about his Clan threatening a coup and causing him to have to choose between his family and his honour.

Itachi knew that his facial expressions were difficult for most non-ninja to read, but his lover was an Aburame, from a Clan that were allegedly even more difficult to read than the Uchiha. Muta asked for no further confirmation of his supposition, and instead merely drew Itachi into his arms.

Itachi wondered what it was about him these days that caused people around him to offer him so much physical affection. It was not something that he was used to. It was not what he would have considered consistent with the Uchiha Clan's reputed image.

Feeling the warmth emanating from his lover's body through his long white coat, listening to the rustle of leaves, and the distant sounds of people training, Itachi let himself relax enough to fall into a doze.

Edo Tensei!

Itachi woke up with the echo of Kabuto's voice in his head.

He felt cold.



And that's a wrap.

Assume that as far as Itachi is concerned, canon ensues past that point. He got called back by Kabuto's Edo Tensei, and he becomes a post-humous hero or something. It's all very Life on Mars though, he's in a coma back in the other dimension, and when he dies for the second time in Canon!Verse he gets to go back. Maybe. I'm never going to get around to writing this, but I'm putting out there how it could have happened for those of you who want an unambiguously happy ending.

Thanks to everyone who left me comments and reviews over the years. Special mention to anyone who was following this back when I started working on it, and to everyone who's been patiently waiting for this last chapter.

Yes, I did originally plan to write at least one more arc.

Realistically though, that's never going to happen. It's been too long, I'm in a different headspace, I've lost interest in this, so I'm finishing it how I always meant to. At least now there's some closure.

So yeah, I'm glad that some people got some enjoyment out of this, but that's it. Any continuances or sequels will have to be up to someone else, because it took me a year to work up the motivation to get this chapter written, and I consider myself officially done with this.

It's been real.