Chapter 1:

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warnings: mentions/thoughts of suicide/fratricide/patricide/every kind of 'cide,' really, and violence

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thank you to drippingmoonwax for being a great beta as always uwu

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She could only see shadows in the room. The silence of the night was broken by shallow breaths and a whispering breeze.

The sluggish, hazy daze of an infant's mind was a familiar one. If there had been light, she would have been able to see her hands, once again pale and unscarred.

Her skin brushed along the soft fabric of her blanket. There was a flutter of movement, of easy, quiet breathing, beside her ears.

Uchiha Miho slowly turned her head - and stared at the child next to her.

(The door behind her slowly opened.

"You know," she began, staring out through her bedroom window. The scent of iron and blood flooded the air. "When they said I had the worst parts between the two of us… I guess they were right."

There was a pause.

"Miho," he said wearily. She briefly wondered if he had saved her for last. It wouldn't be hard to check, to search for their parents' chakra downstairs -

Her hands fiddled with origami paper and, almost too casually, she looked back.

She had thought her life would flash before her eyes. Displaying everything she did wrong, the chances she had missed, the signs she hadn't noticed -

Instead, Itachi's tired eyes reflected her own.)

Her fingers clenched the blanket. For an agonizing moment, she envisioned taking the blanket and pressing it against his face, pushing down until his heartbeat stopped -

She stared into the dark ceiling.

And, just like every other night, she released her grip and closed her eyes.

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Uchiha Miho and Uchiha Itachi were born on an auspicious day.

Twins, the elders hummed, eyes already trained on the firstborn, on the future Uchiha Itachi would bring.

Before, she had clawed for those stares. She had been desperate - a timer ticking down in her head, the numbers looming beneath her skin.

Look at me, she had cried, fingers outreached towards Itachi's distant back. Let me help!

"Good work, Itachi-sama," a familiar voice praised, and she returned to the world. "You'll be fluent in katakana in no time."

They were sitting under the wooden awnings of her home, a pot of lukewarm tea resting on a low table.

"Than' you," Itachi said, his lisp betraying his three-year-old self. She had once thought that that was the most adorable thing in the world.

The tutor glanced across the table, to Miho and her half-finished work.

"And you as well, Miho-hime," the tutor said, half a beat later. He was just as unsubtle as he had been the first time.

(She had taken offense to that, before. Her mind had worked frantically, learning whatever she could, finishing everything given to her as fast as possible - just to have the right to stand by Itachi's side.

In the end, it hadn't been enough.)

"Thank you," she quietly said, fingers carefully wrapped around her pencil. She slowly drew out the next character.

On the other side of the table, Itachi stared at her curiously, eyes wide and bright. The cushion beneath him seemed to nearly swallow his tiny body whole.

Her eyes focused on the worksheets in front of her.

From the very beginning, she had wanted to bring something warm into his world. Prior knowledge had told her he loved the bright, the friendly, the innocent.

Itachi-nii-san, she used to call him, with open arms and a grin so wide her cheeks had begun to sting. Her heart had ached to give something, anything, that she could.

It got easier with time - her smiles, her laughs - until it was difficult to tell apart what was real from what wasn't.

What would be enough, she had wondered, had desperately searched for, to defy the tragedy of his fate?

Her pencil paused above the paper. A warm breeze blew through the garden and the open doors, leaving black strands of hair to tickle her ears.

She turned her head to the world outside. The wind brushed past the tiny koi pond, sending quiet ripples across the water.

It would be easy, she thought, to fall into the pond and never come out. In a matter of minutes, she could end it all.

(If she let the water pool over her head, would she return to the same moment and restart again?).

Warm, steady chakra floated toward the front door. There was a clatter and immediately, Itachi's gaze shot to the side.

She imagined the noise was more for their own benefit. Uchiha Mikoto was far too skilled for it to be anything else.

"My," Mikoto said, walking through the sliding doors with silent footsteps. The tutor rose to his feet and gave a deep bow. "I see you two are hard at work."

"Yes!" Itachi answered, eyes curving into a smile. He wouldn't learn to stifle his facial expressions until next year.

Mikoto crouched down, tucking her yukata around her legs. Her eyes creased and a gentle smile rested on her lips.

"Well, I guess I should get started on dinner then," she finally said, after looking between the two children. "Keep up the good work!"

Standing up in one smooth motion, their mother headed to the kitchen, her chakra as smooth as a sharpened katana.

Silently, Miho finished another hiragana character and moved on to the next one.

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Dinner that night, as it had been for the past year, was a quiet affair.

Soft clacks of chopsticks, the summer crickets crooning outside - sounds she had spent over a decade learning.

"Itachi," their father said, after a long moment of silence. By his side, Mikoto nearly paused. "I heard you're progressing well in your studies."

Across the table, Itachi kept his hands in his lap. "Yes."

She glanced at his fingers curled tightly into fists.

A fast learner as always, she thought, taking a slow sip of miso soup.

Fugaku nodded slightly before turning his attention to her. A lifetime ago, the heavy weight of his stare would've been enough to straighten her back.

"And you, Miho," he said, something briefly flashing past his eyes. "You must try harder. Already, you're dragging behind your brother."

Early, she thought, placing her spoon down onto the table. You're saying this much earlier than before.

(By the time they had turned nine, the gap between her and Itachi had grown noticeably wide. The elders and, consequently, her father, had not been pleased.

It was nearly enough to make her crumble - the remaining years till the end had hung above her like a guillotine.)

But that was a lifetime ago. This time, it was difficult to even bother making an effort.

"I understand," she said, waiting another moment longer before returning to her soup.

Her father's eyes narrowed.

The dinner continued on, and she remained focused on her food. Itachi's stares pricked at her skin.

It wouldn't matter. After Sasuke's birth, those curious eyes would turn there instead.

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The year passed by slower than she remembered.

It was likely because, unlike last time, she wasn't scrambling to find a solution. Those years of frenzied planning had always made time seem so short.

"Again," Fugaku called, face stern and arms folded.

She rolled her shoulders and tested her straining muscles. On the other side of the training ground, Itachi moved swiftly to the practice targets to pick up his wooden shuriken.

By the time she reached her own fallen weapons, Itachi was running through his throws again.

Her fingers curled around the shuriken, the rough wood brushing against her skin. She dusted off the practice weapons and returned to her spot.

Finding the right stance was as easy as breathing - she had already gone through her father's harsh training once.

She tested the weight of the shuriken before tossing it forward. It landed a few meters further away.

The motion was familiar, she thought, though the muscle memory wasn't there yet.

Her next few throws continued in this fashion - slowly, carefully, precisely.

"Faster!" Fugaku barked. She grabbed her last shuriken. "How can you expect to use real weapons at that speed?"

Ever the dutiful daughter, she threw the shuriken with the same speed as before. It landed right on top of the growing pile of tossed weapons.

She had often torn her muscles before, to keep up with her father's demands. It had left spots of bad technique that took her years to fix.

Behind her, Fugaku's chakra spiked minutely.

Quietly, she moved again to pick up her pile of shuriken. From the corner of her eye, she caught Itachi throwing his shuriken with accuracy and an alarming amount of speed.

Must be nice, she thought dully. The envy she once had - the awe - was long gone.

(You're amazing, Itachi-nii-san, she had said before, with wide, amazed eyes. Fugaku had frowned at them, but Itachi's warm, quiet smile had made it worth it.)

At the end of their training, she was pulled to the side.

"From now on, you'll be training separately from Itachi," Fugaku said. He wasn't particularly tall, but at her age, he seemed to loom over her entire body. "It's clear you're unable to keep up. I cannot have you holding your brother back."

She studied her father's sandals. This hadn't happened before - at age nine, she and Itachi had gone their separate ways and had long since stopped learning from Fugaku.

(I'll do my best, she had promised her father, with shining eyes and a broad smile. Her cheeks had ached from the strain.

Her time had been spent obsessively in the training grounds. It was a search for a single advantage, for another breakthrough, just to keep her father's eyes on her, to unload even a fraction of Itachi's burdens -)

"I understand," she said, because she now knew her best would never be enough. With a bow, she turned around and walked out of the training grounds.

There was a scurry of movement at the gates. A rustle of leaves and the patter of footsteps.

Without a single glance, she walked past Itachi and headed home.

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"I heard about your training sessions," her mother said one morning, picking through a wardrobe of clothes.

Mikoto released a sigh. "Honestly. Sometimes, it's hard to understand what your father's thinking."

It wasn't hard at all, Miho thought, waiting patiently in front of a mirror. Uchiha Fugaku was a proud man and that was probably his only personality trait.

"He does care, you know," Mikoto said, before bringing out a deep blue yukata, with white lilies decorated at the hem. "What do you think?"

"That's fine."

After some time, a pair of firm, warm hands grasped her shoulders.

"Would you look at that," Mikoto said, eyes creasing. "Your mother is blessed to have such beautiful children."

There was a girl in the mirror. Straight, raven hair that fell past her shoulders, a set of dark eyes and pale skin -

It would have been a disconcerting sight, years ago.

This time, she could only stare at the dark circles under her eyes.

Long, slim fingers reached out to her.

"It's time we go," her mother said, wrapping a hand around her own. "We don't want to be late, do we?"

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A sudden wail pierced through the streets.

"You're lying!" a woman wailed, hair in disarray. She collapsed to the floor beside a stoic ninja. "I can't - you're lying to me! He's not, he's not dead! He can't be!"

Miho slipped the rest of the coins into the shopkeeper's slack hand.

She grabbed half of the groceries and said, "Let's go."

Tearing his eyes away from the sobbing woman, Itachi nodded slowly and picked up the remaining bags.

Bad form, she thought, walking past the crowd that had begun to surround the scene. They should've found a more private spot.

The grocery bags weighed heavily against her arms. By her side, Itachi continued on without any visible signs of struggle.

It was a clear sign that Itachi was already subconsciously working his chakra through his muscles.

She prodded her own pool of chakra. Keeping it under a tight leash was second nature at this point, but she was still too young to make any use of it yet.

There's too much, she realized, poking her chakra a little more. It churned uneasily back and forth.

It was to be expected. Her first time in this body had left her chakra unbalanced because of the drastic spiritual differences.

Coming back a second time… probably made it even worse.

She silently clicked her tongue. It wasn't in her plans to train beyond her father's demands (that was to say, she didn't have any plans), but the potential harm was too great to ignore.

(She remembered collapsing to the ground, lungs heaving and heart thudding violently in her chest. Itachi's hands ran over her arms, trying to find the source of her pain - they had been too young to really understand the cause.)

She continued to walk down the dusty roads and kept to the side. Despite the bustle of activity around them, she and Itachi remained silent.

His chakra bubbled, like water boiling over a stove, until -

"What was wrong with that woman?"

Miho didn't pause, her feet already moving on from where Itachi had stopped.

When it was clear he wouldn't be moving anytime soon, she turned back around.

"Someone she loved was killed," she said, eyes already straying to the rooftops above her head. Hidden pools of chakra darted around her.

Konoha was approaching the tail ends of the Third Shinobi War. Once the summer leaves turned golden, a new Hokage would be announced.

And that would be the beginning of the end.

Itachi shifted, too well-trained to fidget but too young to stay still.

"You already knew that," Miho finally said, wondering what it would take to get him moving again. As children of the current Clan Head, they had already attended more funeral services than they could count. This scenario was nothing new.

"I know," Itachi said quietly, eyes trained on her, as if searching for some answer. "I just don't know why…"

His words trailed into the air. The missing words didn't matter; Miho had spent over a decade chasing after a boy who grew up too fast - she could easily fill in the blanks.

I just don't know why anyone has to suffer like this.

At the age of four, Itachi was well settled into his own beliefs. Soon he would begin to question his way of life, of the meaning behind death and righteousness. It would eat away at his conscience until finally, he would choose the one he loved most over everything else -

And Miho, who was, frankly, tired of philosophical little boys who agonized over the concept of war, readjusted her grip on the groceries.

(Before, she would have wrapped her arms around him. She'd whisper how it wasn't fair, how life was cruel but also generous. They'd share a moment of understanding, of what they would do, years into the future -)

"That doesn't matter," she told him shortly, already turning away to head back home.

Footsteps followed after her. After a long moment of silence, he asked, "Why doesn't it matter?"

Her lips pressed into a thin line. Itachi was unusually talkative today. They hadn't shared a single conversation in this lifetime.

She ignored the question and kept her eyes trained in front of her.

Behind her, in a soft voice, Itachi said, "It should matter."

Her feet stopped.

I should've used that blanket, she thought numbly. I should've used it and ended it right there.

"Why should it?" the words burned past her lips. In a blink, she realized she had already turned back around, staring straight into Itachi's wide, dark eyes.

"You speak well for someone who only thinks," she said, unable to stop herself, unable to hold back the heat in her throat. "It doesn't matter because you can't do anything."

I did everything for you, a part of her shrieked, the part she had buried after her death. I did everything and look what happened! How dare you tell me what should matter?

"Do you think your feelings can change everything?" the world around her seemed to vanish, and only Itachi seemed to remain. She was far too familiar with this sight. "Do you think caring will be enough to make it better?"

Itachi took a step back. His chakra shrunk into himself. "No, I - "

"The only thing that matters is what can actually be changed," she said, dangerously quiet. "A single person can only do so much. To talk about what should or shouldn't matter… you must think highly of yourself."

Her grip on the grocery bags tightened. Without another word, she began to walk, leaving Itachi behind in the middle of a bustling road.

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Their return home was done in eerie silence. It hardly bothered her - she was far too used to long bouts of quiet.

(Before, she used to fill it with words, chattering away by Itachi's side. She would talk, he would listen, and for a few years, she had thought that would be enough.)

It wasn't long before they handed the groceries over to their mother. The distance between the market and their home would become exponentially larger once the Uchiha were relocated to their new compound.

Another year, she thought mildly, stepping around Itachi and walking to her room. For once, his eyes didn't dig into her back.

Another year before Kyuubi made its mark across the village.

(She had agonized over what to do with that, once. Pored over her notes, weighed her options, despaired over the futility of her actions. It was the first lesson of many.)

In the end, she had cowered behind Itachi in a shelter and tucked her head behind his back. She imagined that, though it wasn't clear to her at the time, she simply hadn't been willing to break her mask.

Let's just go through the same motions, she thought that night, stomach full from dinner. Moonlight splashed across her bedsheets as three steady flashes of chakra danced around the house. If she looked further, she could probably find her other relatives too.

Despite everything else, she clung to those pools of chakra. If she closed her eyes, she could almost pretend she had imagined the entire thing. Could almost pretend that the night where each of those lights vanished - one by one - had never happened.

It was wishful thinking. She raised her hand towards the ceiling and curled her fingers inward.

Less than ten years left, a voice whispered in her mind, a phantom of the ticking countdown that had once haunted her dreams.

"It doesn't matter," she replied, repeating the words she had said to Itachi earlier that day. Her body shifted to the side and she placed the back of her hand over her eyes. "I don't want to try anymore."

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As if the world was mocking her thoughts, she woke the next day to a familiar, blazing pool of chakra. The moment it entered the compound, her eyes snapped open, fingers curling around the kunai she had stolen from her father.

A moment later, she returned to her senses and slowly released her grip. Her hands dug into her eyes and she wiped the grime away.

In the minutes the chakra took to find her house, she slipped out of her bed and changed into looser clothes. Her body ran through the next stretches on autopilot, a habit she had cultivated for over a decade.

She reached around her leg and relaxed her muscles, the strain barely registering in her mind. Under her tight hold, her chakra sparked restlessly - a reminder that she needed to do something before her spiritual energy overrode her muscles and stopped her heart.

The temptation to let nature run its course was there. It was a better option than waiting in her bedroom once again, staring out into the blood-soaked streets, while Itachi's chakra approached slowly - closer and closer -

She closed the idea and packed it away for another time. Konoha's medics were a little too talented for her to even attempt it.

Twenty minutes and a quick shower later, she padded down the stairs, passing by the room where Mikoto often entertained her guests.

"Miho!" her mother called. "Come meet my guest!"

How mad would Mother be, she thought, staring deeply into the garden outside, if I ran for it?

Like a mind-reader, Mikoto said warningly, "Miho…"

Swallowing down a sigh, she slid the door open and stepped inside. Immediately, chakra pressed against her skin - not hot enough to burn, but warm enough to remain present.

Sitting across from her mother, in well-fitted armor and sporting brilliant red hair, Uzumaki Kushina beamed.

"Miho-chan!" Kushina cradled a hand along her cheek. "It's been so long! Do you remember me?"

"I don't," Miho answered, clasping her hands together. She had been two when Kushina had last visited in this timeline. There was no conceivable way she would really be able to remember.

There was a short pause as Kushina glanced at Mikoto, who simply released a light sigh.

"Well, it's still good to see you," Kushina said, an effortless smile on her face. "You're growing to be just as pretty as your mom!"

"Thank you," Miho said. She had once wondered what this body would eventually grow into, back when her desperation had spurred on a sense of hope.

Now, she was resigned to have the image of a child, forever frozen in her mind.

Another short pause.

Kushina leaned slowly back to Mikoto. In a near inaudible voice, she whispered, "... the hell, Mikoto-chan? Both your kids are so gloomy!"

Mikoto creased her eyes. "Miho, why don't you eat some breakfast? There's some on the stove right now. Your father took Itachi to the training grounds a while ago."

With a blink, Miho nodded and exited the room. As the door slowly closed behind her, a sharp clang of metal rang through the air. Likely, Mikoto was defending her children's honor.

It was easy work to reheat some soup and take out a bowl of rice. The chakra in the room behind her flickered freely - even through the walls, she could feel a faint heat warming her back.

She had called Kushina something else, once. In the few years before Kyuubi's return, Uchiha Miho had tottered around Kushina with a bright smile and eager eyes.

(Auntie, she would cry out, tugging at Kushina's clothes. Auntie, teach me something new!)

Kushina had visited often in that timeline. It was clear she had enjoyed spending time with a reflection of herself - with someone warm and full of life.

Those days were idyllic. Those were the days when a single person seemed to be enough.

She ate quietly in the kitchen. The chakra behind her continued to burn brightly, like the sun on a midsummer day.

(This time, she had no plans on being a reflection for anyone but herself.)

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Later that night, when the moon rose above her mother's little garden, she knocked on the door to Fugaku's office.

"Enter."

She slid the door behind her, all too mindful of the etiquette lessons she had begun a month ago. From past experience, she knew Mikoto would definitely be able to hear the door slam shut.

Fugaku's office was simple and clean. It was the picture-perfect example of practicality, and in the center, sitting on the floor next to a desk full of documents, her father continued to write.

Though it was her first time in this timeline, Miho had too many memories of visiting this place in a lifetime past. She gingerly knelt down and placed her hands in her lap.

The silence lasted for a few more minutes. Besides the crackle of a nearby candle and the scratch of pencil, Miho was left entirely to her thoughts.

Dangerous as always, she thought, sitting patiently still.

Eventually, perhaps when he had finished his current file (or when he had tired of Miho's presence), Fugaku looked up at her. "What is it?"

"I'd like permission to leave the compound to train," she said, without preamble. It hadn't taken long for her to learn that it was best to remain direct with him. "Especially in the early mornings."

Fugaku placed a stack of paper onto the side. "Why?"

"It's less crowded in the mornings," she answered, aware that she was missing the point of his question entirely.

Her father's permission didn't really matter, in the end. By the time she was eleven, Miho could slip in and out of the compound like a ghost, completely disappearing from any chakra sense.

(When it had become clear she'd never catch up to Itachi's unrealistic standards, she had long since turned to other fields, in hopes of having something to offer. Itachi may be many things, but a stealth specialist was not one of them.)

The next best option was politely informing her parents about her potential whereabouts. Sometimes, a lack of chakra was just as alarming as the presence of one, and the last thing she needed was for Mikoto to barge into an empty room while expecting the worst.

"Very well," Fugaku said, after a long pause. "It's about time you took your studies seriously."

"Thank you," she said, even though her intentions had been completely misinterpreted. Why deny what wasn't asked for?

She left the office right after and walked up the stairs to her room. There was a flickering chakra above her, like the embers of a warm fireplace.

Her timing, she surmised, would always be terrible.

In the hallway, under the soft light of countless stars, Itachi visibly paused, his hands wrapped around a towel.

His hair curled around the side of his face and his cheeks were flushed. Mikoto had always insisted a warm bath after training was tradition.

She steadily walked past him, her footsteps audible against the wooden floor and eyes trained forward. The door to her room silently closed shut.

It would have been easier if she could ignore her surroundings. But the world had never made things easier for the Uchiha, and so, she was left to watch as the warm chakra in the hallway remained still, for a while longer, before finally moving once again.

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The morning birds chirped in her ears, greeting the sun that had only just begun to rise. With quiet breaths, Miho circled the outskirts of the training grounds a second time, her feet maintaining a steady pace.

Before, back when she had known nothing about conditioning and had only kept her sight on Itachi's oncoming demise, she had spent hours perfecting her form. Her muscles would often tear from overuse until eventually, a medic threatened to report her for negligence.

(I'm fine, she had reassured Itachi brightly, during the few times he was available to visit her in the hospital. The lines between his eyes had become more pronounced, and she was nearly tempted to tell him that she was just as tired as he was. It happens sometimes, so don't worry, Itachi-nii-san! I'll be better before you know it!)

It wasn't worth going through the motions to land herself in the hospital again. The constant strain on her body prevented her from growing as much as she should have - if there was one thing she was determined to have in this life, it was to have a little more height than before.

Thirty minutes later, she ran through another set of stretches and drank heartily from her water bottle. Then, after probing her chakra once more (still kept tightly together), she began another set of laps around the training grounds.

Her routine continued on, at a near leisurely pace. The months continued and, at the end of the summer, Konoha celebrated the end of the war and welcomed a new leader into the fold.

Standing by her father's side, she shrunk her chakra into herself, carefully coating her ears to block out the flood of noise covering the streets.

Itachi's eyes had, once again, returned to prick her skin.

Further ahead, under a halo of light, Namikaze Minato accepted a wide-brimmed hat and waved at the crowd. A thunder of cheers rang through the air as dozens of feet stamped their approval.

From a distance, Minato's chakra shone brightly, like a dancing, spring breeze - even in her past life, she had yet to meet someone with chakra as pretty as Namikaze Minato's.

Under the clear, blue sky, hearing the chants of hundreds, the smell of smoke and maple leaves, she could almost imagine that the future was bright.

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In the entrance of winter, she and Itachi were brought to the dinner table for a formal discussion.

Mikoto's curved smile told all.

"We just wanted to let you know," she began, one hand curled around her father's. It was moments like these that let a sliver of her parents' relationship through. "By summer's time, we might have someone new in our family."

Having lived through this once, Miho nodded silently.

Itachi was uncomfortably quick on the uptake.

"You mean," his eyes slid over to Miho, before quickly returning back to their mother. "A sibling?"

"That's right," Mikoto smiled, somehow unsurprised that her four-year-old children knew exactly what was going on. "Hopefully, we'll get to meet them soon!"

"You'll do well to guide them through our traditions," Fugaku added, glancing pointedly at Miho.

Pretending as if she couldn't feel the look at all, she let her eyes travel over to the sliding doors that were left slightly ajar, and into the hallway outside.

Sasuke, huh, she thought, staring after the crescent moon in the distance.

At the end of it all, would she return to the same spot again, for the third time? How many times would Sasuke be left behind, until the world was satisfied?

She didn't know if the love of a brother was a blessing or a curse.

It's not something I know much about, she thought, glancing briefly behind her and into Itachi's dark eyes.

He blinked rapidly as she rose to her feet and bid her parents goodnight.

Perhaps he had cared, she allowed, as she walked up the stairs. Itachi was a boy who cared sometimes too deeply and sometimes not enough.

It wasn't a matter of if he had or hadn't. Rather, it was a question of why she hadn't been enough.

But that was a thought that would only force a responsibility onto her. That was the thought that had spurned her on, an entire lifetime ago.

(No matter her thoughts, it was important to remember that Itachi would pick Sasuke - over and over again.

And she was tired of fighting for something that was never hers in the first place.)

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(Like a candle blown to dust, another light vanished into thin air. And another. Then another.

She waited patiently by her windowsill, the screams of her relatives muffled through the walls. Against the glass windowpane, her reflection stared back at her - a thin, pale girl with sunken eyes.

Farther away, near the corner of another district, Sasuke's chakra flickered faintly in the distance. He was probably still at the Academy.

There was someone else near her house, moving rapidly through the streets, quietly snuffing another light, one after the other. The chakra roared like a forest fire, a swirl of flames escaping into the night.

She knew that one.

Without a single sound, she sunk her senses into herself and let her mind go blank. From the pockets of her kimono, she pulled out a piece of origami paper, and began to fold.

After a long moment, the chakra moved up the stairs and into the hallway. Her eyes remained focused on the streets outside, where pools of blood dripped down the road.

The door behind her slowly opened.

"You know," she began, staring out through her bedroom window. The scent of iron and blood flooded the air. "When they said I had the worst parts between the two of us… I guess they were right."

There was a pause.

"Miho," he said wearily. She briefly wondered if he had saved her for last. It wouldn't be hard to check, to search for their parents' chakra downstairs -

Her hands fiddled with the folded origami paper. Slowly, she looked back.

There was blood dripping from his eyes. Was it for her, or for their parents, or for the only person they'd be leaving behind?

She knew the answer already.

"I'm tired, Itachi," she said.

His grip around his katana tightened.

"I know," he said. There was a strange, dull light in his eyes.

A paper flower rested in her hands.

"Hey," she said. It was a wonder he hadn't already used his sword to end their misery. Was he waiting for Sasuke?

"Could you do me a favor?")

She woke up with a flash of red.

Her body remained frozen still, breaths even and chakra eerily calm. Even in her sleep, it was ridiculous how easy it was to maintain control over herself.

The house was strangely empty.

It took her a moment to remember that Mikoto would be at the hospital today for a doctor's appointment, before she moved to get ready for the day.

She grabbed a packed lunch from the kitchen and headed out the front door.

"Good morning, Miho-hime," an elderly woman called out.

"Good morning," Miho answered back, bowing once before continuing on her way.

Her path out of the compound was only interrupted a few more times, where several adults gave short greetings. She passed by a small group of children, who all gave her a wide berth.

(She used to play with those children and greet her relatives with great cheer.

It was easy to tell herself it was for information gathering, to reinforce her identity within her clan, to prepare for the day when she would need to settle negotiations.

In hindsight, perhaps - despite her relationship with Itachi - she had simply been lonely.)

It didn't take long for her to walk to the training grounds. Though she had no access to the actual grounds as a civilian, the outskirts were free game.

Her hair, now falling between her shoulder blades, was tied tightly into a ponytail. After a good hour or so, as sweat dripped down her neck and her legs ached, she took a short break and began to stretch.

One more year, Miho guessed, probing her restless chakra. It sparked around her fingers, but she ignored the sting with ease.

Another year for her chakra to settle meant she'd be around five or six. That… was earlier than expected.

She hadn't come across the original issue until she had entered the Academy, years ago. By then, it was a scramble to keep her physical abilities up to par, while keeping a sharp eye on her chakra.

It still hadn't taken long for her to leave - a year after Itachi's graduation, she had followed in his footsteps. A strange thought, considering how dangerously close she had gotten to ruining herself for the chance.

She shook away the memories and stood on her feet.

"I'll try the woods this time," she said aloud, before heading in the right direction.

A good few hours were spent running through her katas, practicing with wooden shuriken, and testing the corners of her reserves - she switched between each routine with careful precision, making sure to give each muscle group enough time to recover.

After another long while, Miho packed up her things and headed home.

She passed by the guards around the compound, nodding once when they gave her a short bow. The same routine from the morning repeated itself and, after a few short greetings, she turned the corner.

Her feet stopped.

Something isn't right, she eyed her house, studying the frantic chakra inside. The embers made it clear it was Itachi, but from what she could tell, there was no one else.

She entered the house on silent feet. Gently placing the empty lunchbox onto the kitchen table, she walked slowly up the stairs, her chakra completely invisible.

It wouldn't hurt to remain concealed - though Itachi wasn't supposed to learn how to sense chakra until his Academy years, he certainly knew how to use it now.

The hallway was eerily still. Before long, she found herself close to the wall, her feet sliding over the wooden floor, breaths completely silent and with a lazily beating heart.

Old habits die hard, she thought, passing by Itachi's room. Her head tilted to the side as she caught the slightest scent of blood.

She paused.

Itachi's chakra continued to jump up and down, in a pattern that seemed almost reminiscent to her own.

It didn't look like he was dying. Ultimately, a course of action could be decided after a shower. Mikoto's teachings still held firm even a lifetime later.

After a nice, warm shower, she stepped out into the hallway, dressed in a fresh pair of clothes and damp hair sticking to her face.

Itachi's room was suspiciously quiet.

But Miho didn't need sound to understand the chakra that was still moving around.

She headed to her room and closed the door. Running a towel through her hair, she grabbed a scroll for light reading and settled into her futon.

Like a bug that wouldn't go away, Itachi's chakra jolted again, the action repeating over and over, burning against her senses -

Miho eyed the kunai underneath her pillow.

Itachi was still young. She could still overpower him at this age, despite his advantage in strength. If she brought the kunai, it would definitely tip the odds in her favor -

She snapped the scroll shut.

"If you're going to die," she muttered. "At least die quietly."

Her feet stepped silently out of the room, and it took a conscious effort to have them create an audible sound. She walked over to Itachi's room, knocked once, and, without even waiting for an answer, opened the door.

Immediately, the sharp scent of blood hit her nose. For a brief moment, her mind nearly flashed back to that night, where she had stood by the windowsill and waited for her turn.

But she blinked again and instead, a younger Itachi, cheeks still soft and hair still short, entered her line of sight.

He was completely frozen. Drops of blood had dripped down from his leg and onto the floor. Stained bandages were haphazardly wrapped around the open wound and his hands were completely red.

They stared at each other for another moment.

Distantly, Miho thought, was four-year-old Itachi ever taught to dress his wounds?

It had never been an issue before. Eventually, through the Academy, they would be taught the proper technique of wrapping bandages around open wounds, blisters, and other injuries. It was a standard class that had begun under the instruction of Senju Tsunade, decades ago.

The words spilled out from her mouth before she could stop herself. "Are you dumb?"

Itachi was still too young to hide the flinch.

Of all places to dress your wound, she thought, already wondering if this timeline's Itachi was slower than the previous one. You could've gone to the hospital. Or a local clinic. Or even one of the aunties in the compound - !

She eyed the ruined bandages around his leg. Without another word, she turned back around and walked to the bathroom. Like her previous lifetime, the cabinet under the sink still held fresh bandages and disinfectant.

After grabbing those, she snatched several towels, running a few under warm water. In a matter of minutes, she had all her supplies and, with chakra crackling under her skin, returned to Itachi's room.

The door was still open. Inside, Itachi was in the same position as when she had left, though his hands were curled into fists and his eyes stared blankly at the wall in front of him.

She unceremoniously dropped her supplies by Itachi's side. It was enough to startle him and nearly send him to the floor.

His eyes widened as she sat on the floor, the blood from his wounds seeping into her clothes. "Wait, your clothes - "

She pressed a warm towel against his leg and Itachi let out an abrupt hiss.

From then on, it was silent. The blood was swiftly cleaned and the ruined bandages dumped (and, hopefully, eventually burned). After a few minutes, she applied disinfectant and studied the wound.

Long, but shallow, she thought, figuring Itachi's chances of surviving were unfortunately rather high. Though it was a long shot, she gathered chakra to her fingertips. Unsurprisingly, a flicker of green sputtered to life, before quickly dying away.

Instead, she carefully wrapped clean bandages around the wound. Though this body didn't have the muscle memory, her mind remembered the hours she had spent in the hospital.

It wasn't difficult to guess how Itachi had gotten hurt. The question slipped past her lips before she could stop it. "Who gave you the kunai?"

Itachi's eyes were still trained on her hands. "... Father did."

Miho paused.

That, she thought, was really unlikely. Despite her own conflictions with his method of training, Fugaku had always been incredibly attentive over Itachi's growth.

But Itachi wasn't a liar. Between the two of them, Miho had been the one to grab first place in that field.

She couldn't remember Itachi ever having a weapons accident when they were younger. They had trained together under Fugaku's supervision until they were seven -

Oh, she thought. I'm not at training sessions anymore.

Nowadays, her training was often overseen by another clan member or, sometimes, Mikoto. There was a lot of space for self-study, which suited her needs just fine.

But the absence of another child opened up the opportunity to speed up Itachi's training even further.

Likely, Fugaku had given Itachi the kunai after a few supervised sessions. It was incredibly easy to fall into the mindset that Itachi could handle anything thrown his way.

There was another long silence.

She swiftly finished wrapping the wound and tucked the bandage under the ends. The towels were stuffed into a bag for a more thorough cleaning and she briefly glanced at the blood on the floor.

Learning how to clean blood was a rite of passage, and she imagined Itachi at least deserved a scolding from Mikoto.

Behind her, his chakra bubbled in a familiar way. In the quietest of voices, with words so thin they seemed to vanish into air, Itachi asked,

"Do you hate me?"

Yes, the word burst onto her tongue and nearly escaped her lips. How could I not?

But that would be an admission of what she had before, and that wasn't something she planned on sharing.

She tied the bag of dirty towels shut and silently walked out of the room.

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-o-o-o-o-o-

notes!

- an angst fic? in my works? it's more likely than you think!

- but really, i thought it'd be a nice change of pace and oh god, it's all unraveled from there

- speaking of which, wow, i'm sure you can already tell that our OC here is a cesspool of conflicting emotions. i'm excited to share the bits and pieces of her 'past,' while maintaining the current timeline as well.

- i hope the distinction between 'past' and 'present' Miho are clear - and why there ever was a distinction in the first place!

- on a note about warnings: though this fic is has more 'angst,' we won't dig any deeper than the average depictions of canon violence. however, i recommend turning away if you do not like constant thoughts of murder, as... it'll be a reoccurring topic.

- this is the second fic i'll be posting on Ao3, so you're welcome to visit me there as well! you can find me under 'searchingforenadi' (no caps or periods D:)

- this is probably a very strange fic, especially in the territory of SI!OC, but it seems that i'm not very good at much else, so i hope it's an enjoyable read to anyone who comes by! i'd love to hear any thoughts about our main OC and speculations about the past (or future) as well :)

thank you again for stopping by!

- SE