A/N: I don't know what this is or why I wrote it. Take it or leave it, but please be responsible with yourself; this story contains graphic depictions of torture, specifically simulated drowning, and I am not your babysitter.
Itachi expects this now, and Fugaku can't figure out how he feels about that.
Expecting it is part of both the solution and the problem; Fugaku understands this innately and has no need to remind himself of it, but he does remind himself that this is not the time to concern himself with feeling, nor unnecessary thoughts.
What does concern him is Itachi's behavior. It's peculiar—Fugaku has taken him here several times already, once every three days since the summer solstice, and yet he doesn't protest. Itachi does not cry or hide feebly away like the other children who have filled his shoes through the generations. By now, he knows this route well, and Fugaku knows he remembers what comes at the end point. And still, despite everything, he follows his father to the water's edge.
The first time he brought Itachi here was the only time he asked why. In the aftermath, as Itachi lay in the dirt with open ears and abused lungs, Fugaku told him in plain terms that it was for the sake of peace in the village; a vague answer, perhaps, but it was all that was necessary.
Itachi didn't ask him again.
Some of Fugaku's concerns ease once Itachi's feet hit the pebbled edge of the Naka; it becomes immediately clear that Itachi is not so used to this as he seemed—it will work on him yet, and it will work well. As soon as Fugaku pushes him into the water, he squirms and writhes, and Fugaku almost thinks he might try to swim out into the whitewater rather than face what he knows comes next.
He isn't given the time to; Itachi wastes precious seconds struggling into a more able stance, but the waters in this part of the river come up to his neck. By the time he's halfway back to sense, Fugaku's right arm is already coiled around his waist, lifting his feet from the loam and crushing him close to his chest. His left arm shoves Itachi's head underwater and keeps it there.
Tonight, the Naka River's waters run deeper than usual, still swollen from last week's estival showers, and Fugaku Uchiha is going to drown his eldest child.
At this time, in this place, Fugaku Uchiha does not think. He only expects; he can stand guard all night here, waist-deep in black water with one arm around Itachi's midriff and the other on the back of his head. He will remain here until Itachi performs appropriately, and that's all there is to it.
Fugaku knows there are many things he could do right now, but each possibility that crosses his mind only feels kitschy and stupid, all senseless effort and flash for too little return or reward; theatre is best left to those who enjoy it, or at least those can direct it constructively. Fugaku is neither type of person, and his body hangs disjointed and lumpy off him as he thinks about it. If he were capable of thinking, of naming what he feels crawling through his muscles right now, he would call this feeling resentment.
As the head of the clan, Fugaku tells himself he need not rely on any hand but his own. After everything, he tells himself, he must have earned that much.
Fugaku doesn't need to twist Itachi's hair in his fist; he doesn't need to direct Itachi's gaze toward Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto's shining white face and all the leaves and stones she dapples in thin, mucousy white. He has no monologue prepared. Itachi's ears are full of bleak, spiraling water, and Fugaku has nothing to say.
Fugaku doesn't need to speak at all, he tells himself. No one is here to demand anything of him beyond the most basic of expectations and there's no sense in asking questions as he pulls Itachi's head up—no sense in flashing those ultra perceptive Uchiha eyes, even—the sounds of Itachi's shrill, desperate breaths, weak though they are against the Naka's rumbling waters, against the warning blusters of an impending storm, tell him everything he needs to know.
Itachi is still alive, and his faculties are escaping him in just the right way. As time continues its march forward, as they refine this clandestine dance, the way will open for Fugaku to teach him to resist such cheap tactics, to fend off interrogation and intimidation, but for now, Itachi is the same as any freshly-cut tool; to be more precise, he's nothing at all—not unless wielded by the proper hand.
Fugaku pushes him down again.
The wind bellows, and then it falls silent once more, dispelled by something beyond knowledge, untouchable and perhaps hardly there to begin with. There is nothing new under the black summer sun, wherever it may have fled, and the same is true for the cold sickle-shaped moon that watches them both now.
Itachi struggles; Fugaku doesn't pull him up for air.
Maybe once, a very long time ago, he would not have needed to do this. Perhaps even longer ago—or not so long ago, in a world where he is not the man he is today—Fugaku may have made the choice to abdicate his throne as clan head. Had he known what assuming such a position truly meant for his future—had he known of the cyclicality of these things, of the secret eye lurking and stretching on forever beneath the surface of their bloodline—he may have made different choices. He may have made the choice Itachi will never get to have.
But Fukagu does not think about that either.
From a distant time, from another place far from the riverbanks, Fugaku almost thinks about it. But Fugaku is an Uchiha; he has been an Uchiha from birth, and in this era a good Uchiha man has no space in his heart for anything but the mission and all it entails—in wartime, there is room for nothing else.
The equation is simple. If Itachi is all that he seems, all that Fugaku wishes him to be, then Itachi will carry this load. He will unburden himself of it only in an appropriate manner—a manner through which he can maintain an air of normalcy to outsiders—and he will treat it as a learning experience. He will carry it, and he will not speak of it again.
If, on the other hand, Itachi is not the prodigy he seems to be, a battlefield will solve the problem of his existence quickly. Whether by the hand of the Third Shinobi World War or Konoha's own 'information civil war', the hand which delivers the killing blow does not matter. Right now, to the Uchiha, an heir who cannot survive by his own hand is worth less than nothing.
Fugaku doesn't think about it.
His wife's pregnancy will come to full term any day now. They haven't spoken of it in weeks, but it's all the village will talk about. The more Itachi's skills mature, the less a second son seems necessary—but in this world, and especially in wartime, there are no guarantees.
"Father," Itachi had whispered the first time they came to the Naka, "will you do this to my brother after he's born?"
Fugaku could tell, at the time, that Itachi was trying to keep the question steady, but his voice had wavered and trembled like the last leaf of a tree in winter, his attempt at detachment utterly unconvincing. Not behavior befitting someone trained in arts of secrecy, Fugaku had thought, but it showed loyalty—family loyalty, as deep-green as the verdure the Uchiha made their shinobi name by—and Fugaku liked that.
"That depends on you," Fugaku had said, "and what you do."
He permits Itachi one last breath, but he can tell by sound that Itachi swallows water on the way back down. He sighs; if Fugaku could think about anything right now, he might say to Itachi—or to himself—I don't want to be here either, you know, but he doesn't.
Itachi learns faster than Fugaku expects, though. After a believably long moment—Fugaku counts fourteen seconds—Itachi's limbs slow their floundering. He stops straining his neck against Fugaku's immutable hand, and his relentless kicks and twists ebb into weak efforts that dissipate by the time another six seconds pass.
Quite the convincing charade for a pre-Academy child, Fugaku thinks, but still not good enough, because Itachi's chakra is alive and roiling under the surface. Fugaku can almost feel it burn against his own hand.
The way Itachi feigns unconsciousness almost makes Fugaku wonder if he's tried this before—if he's needed to try it somewhere else already. He has seen war; Fugaku thinks, but perhaps he's just figured out that this is a game. He pulls Itachi free of the water by his hair. A game you can win at if you try.
"Control yourself," Fugaku snarls into Itachi's ear, and the meaning is understood; Itachi heaves another breath in preparation before he's forced underwater again, and he struggles to tighten his chakra down, drawing it in from his extremities to a deeper part of his core. His life force is still electric and hot against Fugaku in the water, but it is marginally quieter, and that's enough—for now.
In other ways, though, it's still not enough—the strain it puts on his body drains his air supply much faster than before, and his vision tightens into a tiny knot until it nearly cuts out. This time, Fugaku senses a deeper shift in Itachi, and he does pull him all the way up and out.
Itachi sputters and coughs weakly even as he's wrenched back to land, infinitely sicker and closer to death than the other times he was allowed to take in air, but Fugaku relaxes as he lets Itachi's hair go; the sound tells Fugaku that his son is still breathing, that he's poised on the boundary between ordinary life and unconsciousness—right where he's supposed to stand.
Under the moon-viewer's spreading arms, Fugaku casts his eyes for a moment to a nearby shore, only a few feet away on his left side. The impression of Itachi's body still lives there in morose traces of chakra and dry mud from their last visit. It's torn up, big, deep wounds still raked into it by Itachi's slippery hands in the first moment of panic before his face hit the water. He'd kicked big wheels of mud up, black and ugly against the grass as it thinned into sand and stone, and he'd gone home filthy. The rag Fugaku brought with him didn't stand a chance at cleaning more than Itachi's mouth and eyes, but after nearly pushing Itachi past an acceptable point he didn't dare throw him back in the water.
Fugaku's eyes trail through the river; it continues to flow and eddy just as it had before their arrival, unburdened by roles, by secrets. He hadn't changed his shoes properly before bringing Itachi out with him—he wore his last pair of soft leather shoes into the river; they bulge around his feet now, bloated and distended with the last traces of this classified meeting.
His eyes return to the plot of ruined mud. In the darkness, the traces of water left moored in its center look like old, rotted blood.
How small it is, this pool of ugly heritage that binds and represents them both, and yet so boundless and ancient. How little an amount it seems for a real body, a real life—and yet just about right for a child.
Towards the back of the main Uchiha property, on the way to the Naka's south bend, between thickets of white pines and inconspicuous grasses, there rises an old monument of dark stone. It comes up waist-high, supported by stone legs on the underside, and it stretches out like a corpse, long enough for a man of Fugaku's stature to lie across it without trouble. Even in his mind, Fugaku won't—can't—name what it's used for, but he can't help but see it now in the stagnant puddles of blood, in the black shine of Itachi's waterlogged hair, in the enigmatic glint of moon on rippling water.
Unable to bear it any longer, he looks at his shoes, shabby and pathetic and falling apart from the wrench of the current. He recenters his chakra.
There is no space in his mind left for regret, nor any for contemplation or abstractions such as sin or pain. These are burdens he will have to teach later, for at this moment the window into Itachi's mind is a yawning, venomous mouth, ready to suck up and swallow anything fed to it. Fugaku knows that his son won't digest nuance in the state he's in—he has prepared one singular absolute for Itachi's spirit to absorb, an idea that will further anchor Itachi to his stolen future. It is easy work. It requires almost no thought at all, and he has seen it done at least a thousand times before.
And yet, as he thinks about it, Fugaku feels something horrible and sharp prickling and digging into the stem of his brain. The back of his head burns with something excruciating, somewhere between cold and scalding, and all at once, Fugaku feels quite drunk; his limbs are heavy and sick with an absinthe he hasn't tasted in twenty long years, and his mouth dries in his face, edged and upholstered with delirious cotton. It strikes him, suddenly, that his tongue is the glue holding his face and jaw together, and that if he moves it at all he'll clatter away into hanging flesh and hingeless bone—he must not move it to speak, lest he lose each and every tooth and eye to the warm green grass far below.
Itachi's mind is more porous and absorbent than a sponge right now—he'll internalize enough without further input. Fugaku's work here is done; his father is not here at his back, after all. There is only Itachi, the knocking-together of horsetail plants, and Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto boring a great white hole through the sky.
Itachi retches something filmy into the sand, the last of the fear in his chakra sizzling away into watery bile, and he tips over, spilling halfway into the balding grass; just like last time, he'll need a real bath to get the beach grit out of his hair once they return to the main house. Fugaku feels, for just a moment, like he can see into Itachi's spinning mind—cold and heavy like thick velvet, jagged and pitted in the center like the long black slab Fugaku tries so hard to forget.
Fugaku wilts down onto one knee, rag in hand. Itachi's eyes are half-lidded and dim—he looks dead, Fugaku thinks—but his chest and throat rattle with the breath of Uchiha fire. Fugaku wipes Itachi's brow and eyes first, prying one shuttered eyelid back to check for the Sharingan; no such luck. He dries the rest of Itachi's face in somber silence, giving his hair a cursory squeeze to dry it before stepping back.
"You're a shinobi, aren't you?" he finally manages, and he realizes he has taught Itachi one of the most important lessons a soldier can learn—all by choosing not to speak at all. "Get up."
Itachi doesn't say anything. Fugaku turns away from the riverbank, emptying his mind of the smells of wet silt and taciturn reeds, and Itachi follows, ready to leave the shore behind in care of the unwavering moon.