Turning over a new leaf
Setting the incense and daffodils before the photo of his late wife, Fugaku bowed and let out a small sigh. Easier. Each year was a little easier than the last. At his sides his sons bowed to their mother's image on the family altar, their movements silent.
As they sat at their kitchen table later that day, Fugaku crossed his arms and regarded his sons with a furrowed brow. The lines etched deeper and deeper in the creases of Itachi's face; the bags beneath Sasuke's sleep-deprived eyes. He'd heard the rumours, of course. Of his eldest running himself into the ground to do his duty to Konoha; of his youngest's philandering. Both were above reproach, professionally. But what of their lives? Their, dare he suggest it, happiness? Was there anything they lived for outside of the clan? Both drowned themselves in responsibility and irresponsibility, respectively.
Yet… when they were on their own, or so they thought, he had observed a tension, or competitive animosity brewing between them. Something was causing friction between them. Mikoto would have known what it was in a minute. She would have known just what to say.
Fugaku, while their father, had let her take the reins when it came to their emotional development.
He was out of his element. He knew he should have taken a more active role in their lives, especially since Mikoto's passing. Been more of a father to his sons, instead of a clan leader.
Itachi lifted his cup of tea to his lips while Sasuke's eyes narrowed at his brother. There it was again, thought Fugaku.
It was time for him to step in.
"Itachi," he said, cracking open the oppressive silence. Mikoto had always strived for a quiet, peaceful home for them; but this quiet was anything but peaceful. "You will retire from active ANBU rotation and take your rightful place as clan head."
Sasuke reacted before his brother, his midnight eyes shooting to his father's.
The facade of Itachi's initial reaction appearing calmer—something Fugaku had long recognized as misdirection on Itachi's part; a calm surface masking darker, mysterious depths—Fugaku turned to his eldest next. "It is long past your due. I never… I never should have let us languish without a matriarch." When Itachi's eyes hinted at interest, Fugaku's suspicions grew. "You are to find a suitable woman and marry within six months."
Sasuke's fingers clawed into fists atop the table as he glared at his brother and father.
"Sasuke, you should also consider a union that would benefit the clan."
"What precipitates this urgency?" asked Itachi, voice steady.
"I had hoped you would be married and have your own heir by now. I've let it go far, far too long. The clan has no matriarch to consult for guidance," said Fugaku, frowning at the table. "There are times when a clan needs a woman's touch in matters." He looked up from the steaming pot of tea to his stress-ridden sons, his chest tightening. He should have recognized it years ago. His strong, capable, dangerous sons needed sheathes or their edges would dull; they would become worn out. They would slip, and risk far worse than mere injuries. "I should have made you head three years ago, Itachi. I admit, my priorities were… blinding me to certain facts."
The boys each knew what went unsaid; that Fugaku had been blind with grief.
"Itachi, you are twenty eight. You should be enjoying a family of your own. Sasuke, you, too, need support and comfort," Fugaku's shoulders slumped. "I prioritized clan affairs over family ones. I did you both a disservice."
Sasuke swallowed, eyes widening but keeping quiet for a time. It was rare for their father to speak so much or admit to any weakness or fault.
Itachi nodded and wet his lips. "Father, with Sasuke being younger, perhaps he could have a year to decide?"
Fugaku glanced between his sons, at their startled, yet subdued reactions. Was he wrong? Did they not yearn to wake with warm arms around them, their well-being the priority of their most precious person? The gift of life and legacy? It was not only a duty to the clan that they continue their line, but to themselves. They had a duty to the happiness they deserved.
Itachi had a point, however. Two weddings, particularly two weddings for the main clan, would be a great deal to coordinate simultaneously, on such a short timeline.
"You may have a year, Sasuke," Fugaku agreed.
Sasuke's eyes flickered to his brother's before Sasuke turned and bowed to his father. "Thank you."
Sasuke's shoulders had relaxed, Fugaku noted, but the wariness in his eyes remained.
And there was that tangible electricity snapping between Sasuke and Itachi.
"Do you have any recommendations?" asked Itachi, distracting Fugaku and drawing the man's attention back to his heir.
Fugaku crossed his arms and regarded his sons. "Things have changed within the Village since my time in your position," he said. "I will not require you to choose from someone within the clan."
Stunned, Sasuke and Itachi stilled, eyes wide as they stared at their father.
"But the Sharingan—" began Sasuke, but Fugaku was already shaking his head.
"Your teammate, the Hokage's apprentice; she has spoken to me on several occasions asking me to reconsider the clause in our marriage contracts about inter-family relations. She showed me why this was a dangerous road to continue following," admitted Fugaku, reluctantly. "Greater variety and stronger resilience, as she put it, would do more good for the Uchiha."
Sasuke was nearly vibrating with tension at his father's words.
"Previously, the clan head held sway over the final decision for the heir's choice of partner," said Itachi, tone careful as he set his cup on the table. "Is this still the case?"
Would Itachi choose someone he did not approve of? Was that why his son had not stepped forward sooner? Fugaku stifled an internal wince. Had he been his own biggest impediment to obtaining grandchildren? Er, he meant… Itachi and Sasuke obtaining happiness?
"I would appreciate some notification before any declarations are made," said Fugaku, holding Itachi's gaze. "Some parties may be… sensitive… when a decision is reached."
Sasuke looked between the pair of stoic men.
"There was a previous marriage contract," said Itachi, sensing Sasuke's question. "We cannot risk upsetting the previously released party by marrying beneath them. It would insult and cast shade upon the original contract."
"Who was the contract for?" asked Sasuke, curious.
"You," said Itachi,
Sasuke's head whipped around to stare at their father. "You nearly sold me?"
"Hardly," said Itachi, reaching for his cup once more. "He nearly sold your independence, freedom of choice and happiness." He sipped his tea.
The light was fading in the late afternoon sun, and Fugaku could feel the trouble brewing between his sons.
"Itachi, don't antagonize your brother," he sighed. "Sasuke, don't rise to your brother's baiting." Where was this immature behaviour coming from? Were his sons fighting over a bone like dogs?—
A light flickered briefly to life in Fugaku's mind.
"So," pursued Itachi, studying his teacup intently. "She is to be of fine standing—"
"Not necessarily from the Uchiha clan—" added Sasuke.
"A skilled kunoichi—" said Itachi.
"With impeccable connections, able to further the clan's objectives," concluded Sasuke.
His sons were staring at each other again, Fugaku noted, a bit uncertain. It was far too easy to imagine the lightning bolts crashing between their unfriendly looks.
"Yes," said the patriarch. He tapped his pointer finger once on his bicep, considering. "And even-tempered. We have enough conflict around here," he muttered, half under his breath.
His sons tensed.
"And a decent cook wouldn't hurt," added Fugaku, nodding to himself. He missed home cooked meals.
The room was silent once more as the men considered their options, their opponent, their prey.
"Six months," said Fugaku looking at Itachi. Itachi nodded. "One year," he said, looking at Sasuke.
Sasuke's expression turned thoughtful. "With the waving of certain traditions, is it possible for me to marry first?"
For the first time during the conversation, Itachi's brows furrowed and his eyes hardened.
"I hardly find that seemly," said Itachi, voice lower than it had been.
"But it would be possible?" Sasuke turned to look from their father to his elder brother, a smirk curling his lips. "One of us needs to really get a move on creating an heir."
"One should be more choosy in his bed partners to avoid bastard children, too. Overzealous efforts will result in sub-par results, after all. Especially since it isn't making her jealous," bit out Itachi under his breath.
The light in Fugaku's mind went from flickering to blazing. He opened his mouth to speak, however his sons had finished their tea and risen to their feet with predatory grace and lightning speed.
The sparks in their eyes were competitive… and not entirely gentlemanly, he was forced to admit.
"Thank you for your guidance, father," said Itachi, striding away before being dismissed.
Fugaku's jaw fell open. Never had Itachi behaved with such disrespect. He turned to Sasuke to remark on it, only to find his youngest son already on his feet.
"You'll find no fault with our choice," assured Sasuke, grabbing a scroll, ink block and brush before rushing from the room.
Bewildered and a bit concerned, Fugaku wondered if he had done the right thing setting the two most obstinate shinobi in all of Konoha loose in the Village… when they both looked like they were hunting the same prey.
It was to Sasuke's advantage that he had taken a page from Naruto's Stalker Handbook Guide To Dating and memorized Sakura's hospital shift schedule. She always stuck it to her fridge, and he committed it to memory (thank you, doujutsu) every time he visited.
Which was how he knew she would be finishing her shift around seven that evening. With a quick stop off at the grocery store for some gum and a half dozen chocolate-flavoured energy bars, he raced to the hospital doors just in time to catch her… speaking to Itachi.
That's okay, thought Sasuke. He had an 'in'.
"Hey, what're you doing in my neck of the Village?" asked Sakura as Sasuke approached. She smiled at him with tired eyes.
"I was in the neighbourhood," said Sasuke. "Naruto mentioned at training earlier he pulled something. Do you have any chakra left for a quick scan?"
"That idiot," sighed Sakura, shoulders sagging. "I knew he wasn't faking."
Sasuke passed her a chocolate bar as she rifled through her purse. "Thanks," she said, grateful. "I need it."
She always did. He had stashed the others in his weapons pouch.
But Itachi was not taking his interference lying down.
"Why did he not go to the hospital?" he asked, staring at Sasuke.
Sakura made a tsk'ing noise in her throat. "He's as bad as Kakashi-sensei. Avoids the hospital like he'll catch cooties or something. I hope you're smarter than the two of them."
"The Kyuubi cannot heal him?" asked Itachi, voice like silk. He watched his brother.
"Not when it's this delicate and annoying," made up Sasuke. "He'll let Naruto suffer for being an idiot. The Kyuubi's pretty passive aggressive."
Sakura looked up from the chocolate bar to frown at Sasuke. "It wasn't that bad, was it?"
"It has to be life-threatening," added Sasuke. "For the Kyuubi to interfere. I mean."
Sakura shook her head. "Well, I'll head over and take a look. Sorry, Itachi. Another time?"
"Hnn," said Itachi, pinning his brother with a glare.
"I'll walk you over," offered Sasuke.
"Okay," she said, waving goodbye to Itachi. "See you tomorrow!'
"Ah," said Itachi.
Sasuke stepped closer to Sakura, relishing in her proximity. And ignoring the certainty that when he returned home that night his room would be booby-trapped to within an inch of his life.
He had this in the bag… And he could sleep at Naruto's, anyway.
Or, if he really played his cards right, Sakura's couch.
"You're not coming home with me until you've cleared an STI screen," said Sakura, pushing Sasuke away. She'd seen Naruto—nothing was wrong, she had no idea what Sasuke had been playing at earlier—and returned to her apartment.
"What are you talking about?"
Sakura's eyebrow arched so high it tickled her fringe.
She let out a low breath. "Uchiha. The only Villagers who haven't seen you naked are the genin. And possibly the civilians on the far side of town. Like, the ugly far side of town."
"That's not true."
"Oh kami, you went through the really shitty side of town, too?" Sakura cringed.
Sakura sighed as Sasuke realized he may have missed his mark with his Make Her Wild with Jealousy strategy. Possibly also his Impress her with Virulent Rumours of Your Prowess strategy. Definitely missed the mark when he combined those strategies together. Hn.
"I have standards," he said.
"You do remember I'm from the civilian side of town," said Sakura evenly. "Do you want to reconsider that answer?"
She dropped her head in her hands. "Please tell me you wrapped it up and I'm not an auntie four hundred times over."
"It's not…" His voice trailed off. With a new partner every day, or two partners after a good bottle of saké… or three that one time, but that was on a mission so it didn't count… okay, he couldn't count them all individually, but he could… approximate...
Sakura stared at him. Judging him.
He licked his lips. Time to redirect. "Still on for Team Seven night tomorrow?"
"Oh shoot, is it tomorrow?" Sakura grunted. "I need to go to the market. And my place is a mess. Can we trade? I'll take your night next time."
"How about we both make it at my place." Oh, he liked that wording! "We haven't had a home cooked meal at my place in forever. We can invite my dad, too. He'd like that," said Sasuke.
He held his breath.
To his surprise, Sakura's eyes softened. "He's been lonely? Oh, your poor dad. How's he doing with everything?"
"Yeah whatever he's great. So, I'll meet you at the market tomorrow at three thirty by your favourite fruit stand. I'll help you buy everything and carry it home." He nodded at Sakura. "Right?"
Shoulders slumping, Sakura nodded. "Okay. See you then," she said, entering her apartment and closing the door behind her when Sasuke took a step closer to her. The door whacked him on the nose and he swallowed a curse.
She opened it and poked her head out a second. "Sorry, did you need anything else?"
"Nope, see you tomorrow," he muttered, nodding to her and pinching the bridge of his nose to staunch the flow.
The door clacked shut behind her leaving Sasuke bleeding on the welcome mat.
… and wow, this was really bleeding out…
He made his way to the hospital to have his nose re-set before returning home on autopilot, triumphant.
—Until he got to his room and remembered why he'd planned on staying at Naruto's.
With a muffled groan he sighed as he swung from his feet, suspended from the ceiling.
"Tch," he muttered, forming the hand signs for a—
"No katon jutsu in the house," said Fugaku from the hallway as he passed Sasuke's door.
Sasuke sighed and reached for his freshest kunai. As he sawed away at the rope—Itachi had used Sasuke's own rope—Sasuke planned how to get rid of his brother the following evening.
AN: This is pure crack. Nearly everyone is OOC. Partially inspired by strawberry9212's story, "Who", in a very distant way. As this story is part of my tumblr "Smut Monday" series (username beyondthemoor), it will be rated M. The M-rated version will be posted to my Archive of Our Own profile, penname moor. Many thanks to AijoInu for her help!
Note that there is no set update schedule; the original story has been written but I want to expand on it a little bit. Originally it came out to about 60 pages. I expect it will top out around 100 or so.