"There is no doubt, only action."

- Uchiha Clan Motto

Continuity Error

By Geno Calamari

Prologue: The Beginning of a Long String of Memories

Or: Something Goes Horribly Awry

A small boy with a full head of blonde hair sat at the base of a massive tree. His eyes brimmed with unshed tears and he sniffled resolutely.

"Not gonna cry… not gonna cry… not gonna cry," he repeated, his voice low and shaky. His mantra echoed softly in the small clearing bathing in dying light, though there was no one to hear it. No one ever heard him.

Thin, bruised arms drew knees up to his small torso. The boy began to rock himself gently, still repeating his chant. It hurt to move like that, but it was better than crying, in his opinion. The boy's legs were covered in cuts and scrapes and one of his bright-blue eyes bloomed black. A shudder ran through his frame. He was smaller than the other boys his age, but he was only five so he had time to grow, right?

People said it was because he was a little monster, but the Hokage said it was because of malnutrition… whatever that was.

Tears streamed down his face. He couldn't hold them back anymore. They had beaten him again today.

He contained the helplessness in him… just barely… because if he didn't, he knew he'd give into that feeling and it would be the end of him. They'd win, then. And he couldn't let that happen. Because Hokage never lost, and when he was a Hokage he'd sure show them.

Hokage got beaten on when they were little, too.

"Dammit," he mumbled.

Naruto cried.

The ANBU leapt, graceful like a great predator and cleared the thirty-meter distance to the next branch.

Something caught his sharp eyes, for he halted after the next branch. There, quite clearly, was the small footpad of a child's sandal.

He swore, not something he was in the habit of doing, but it felt very good at this late junction. This child was frustrating him. The ANBU had been searching for the boy since before lunchtime and it was getting well on into the evening. Finally, the man had found something that might be a trail. It was the best lead he'd had all day.

The Sandaime Hokage wasn't lying when he said 'If the boy doesn't want to be found, he won't be.'

Spitting in his irritation while no one could see him, the lone ANBU regained his composure and remembered.

The door to the Sandaime's office opened, admitting a lone ANBU. He crossed the room with quick, measured strides. While it clearly demonstrated his superior grace and skill, it also betrayed his impatience, though his face was a placid mask.

He bowed, showing the proper degree of respect to the aged Konoha leader. "You summoned me, Hokage-sama?" the ANBU's voice was the proper mix of deference and interest.

"Ah, Commander," the Hokage looked up from the piles of papers, "I have a special mission for you."

A thrill ran up his spine, but Uchiha Itachi did not outwardly react. The mask remained serene and aloof even as his agile mind began to race, considering the possibilities. A special mission? Most likely, it was a secret mission that would require the talents of the Sharingan… Suddenly, Itachi found himself eager with anticipation. An assassination mission, perhaps, but he had heard no news of rogue Uchiha… Would he be asked to appropriate a special Kinjutsu? Ah, it must be interrogation! Whatever it was, it was important to the Hokage; it was written all over his face.

The Sandaime continued, "I have selected you for this mission because of your unique… qualities."

If Itachi could have stood taller, he would. He settled for tensing up. The Hokage's mission briefings were always short and to the point. If he didn't know better, Itachi would have said the Hokage was skirting the issue… as though he did not know how to address it to his subordinate. Was the mission really that unpleasant? Itachi cared little, for the missions everyone else found unpleasant, he rather enjoyed. They usually included more than the normal allowance of fighting, or required unprecedented discretion or stealth, all things in which Itachi excelled.

The silence was deafening, but Itachi found that he could no longer wait. "Does this mission require the Sharingan?"

The Hokage chuckled and Itachi allowed himself a split second of admiration for his own cleverness, then slew the emotion. "No, nothing of the sort, Itachi-kun." He hid the surprise well.

Now Itachi was fairly vibrating. This mission had nothing to do with the Uchiha bloodline, yet required his unique skills? It was counter to his understanding of ANBU assignments, but he could never resist a challenge… and something about this mission screamed challenge to his well-trained ninja senses.

The Hokage stood and walked to the window. His hands clasped behind his back as he gazed out over Konoha, the sun just peeking over the cityscape in the morning. The old man's eyes were misted slightly, but that was no surprise to Itachi. The Sandaime's love of Konoha was well-known.

"Commander," the Hokage spoke and there was steel in his voice now, "You know of Uzumaki Naruto, yes?"

Of course Itachi knew. Every adult in Konoha knew, and one did not become the Commander of the ANBU without knowing about the best-kept-secret in the Leaf's history. He nodded in affirmative.

"The boy has always been the bearer of a great burden, Itachi-kun. The adults hate him because he holds inside him the soul of the Kyuubi no Kitsune. Because of this, the children shun him, refuse to play with him, torment him… and they are slowly growing to hate him as well."

Itachi stood impassive. He had never met the kitsune boy and was thusly indifferent toward the child. Were they finally tasking him to kill the boy? Did no one else have the stomach?

The Hokage's hands were clenched with white-knuckled intensity and he waited for a moment to regain his composure. "But recently, Naruto was admitted to the hospital for severe trauma," Itachi's eyes narrowed fractionally and he found himself wondering where this was going, "Evidence indicates he is being abused by the villagers. The villagers are generally satisfied with making the boy miserable, so he has never been physically injured out of spite, until now. No one is coming forward to accuse the boy's attackers, and Naruto himself is in no condition to make a positive identification. I have asked your father to look into the matter, but it is my belief that certain elements of the police force are dragging their feet on the matter."

Reading between the lines, Itachi figured that the Hokage meant his father wasn't doing anything about it because of his dislike for the boy. Not to mention it gave him the perfect opportunity to thumb his nose at the Hokage and get away with it. The Sandaime didn't seem too pleased with this.

"Hokage-sama, I do not understand." Did the Hokage want him to knock the stuffing out of some child-abusers? Was this conversation a tacit approval for a covert investigation without the official authorization of the Hokage? Itachi couldn't fathom the point. He did not support the notion of child abuse, but he had endured a very difficult childhood himself and was of the opinion that if a man could not take care of himself, by any means necessary, then he was worthless.

All hope of a secret S-class mission or Village intrigue disappeared at the Hokage's next words. "Itachi-kun, I'm going to level with you. I want you to guard Naruto until the perpetrators are found and dealt with accordingly."

In that instant, Itachi created a fragment personality 'Inner Itachi' for the simple purpose of containing his inherent need to face-vault. Then he slew it.

He blinked a few times, eyes staring off into space. "Hokage-sama… there is certainly someone more qualified to look after the boy than I." Guard duty was one of the lowest regarded assignments in the ANBU repertoire, generally handed out to fresh members and trainees. The ANBU was a rapid surgical strike organization that preferred to do things quick and dirty straight from the shadows then fade into the background. Guard duty always made the seasoned ANBU feel exposed and uncomfortable.

"I understand you don't want to, but you're the ANBU I need for the job."

Itachi controlled the urge to make a face. Barely. "But why me?" the words tumbled out of his mouth before he could control his disappointment in the mission. The Hokage sighed and turned his back to Itachi.

"You are the Commander of the ANBU and the most loyal ninja in Konoha, Itachi-kun. But I need you to guard Naruto precisely because you are ANBU. I want to send a strong message to those involved that will not tolerate this kind of behavior."

Smoothly, the Uchiha launched a counterargument, "But any member of the ANBU could serve this purpose just as easily. I have duties and responsibilities to my subordinates that cannot be ignored," as close to pleading as he had ever come before, Itachi moved to stand beside Sandaime at the window. Understand, old man, and bend to my will.

"I understand this, Itachi-kun, but you must know that the Leaf is in a state of calm right now. The assignment I am giving you will not last long, but it is imperative to the future of the Leaf that Naruto is not alienated."

The younger man raised an eyebrow, and the Hokage sensed his unasked question, "One day, Naruto will grown to be an incredible ninja, and he alone will hold the destiny of Konoha in his hands. Moreover, he is a special boy and deserves attention; attention that no one has ever given him. He needs a friend and companion, someone to trust."

Moving with an impossible amount of dignity, the elderly man waved a hand across Konoha, "Naruto craves attention and recognition. It is his dream to surpass all the previous Hokage and have everyone in Konoha acknowledge him. I want him to achieve this goal, if only to prove to an old man that dreams can be attained."

"But why me?" Itachi asked, unmoved by the Hokage's words.

Sarutobi turned away from the window to regard the ANBU for a moment before giving him an answer, "Because they are afraid of you, Itachi-kun. You are powerful and frightening. With Naruto under your protection, no one would think of harming the boy. And while the boy is under your protection, he will learn about the harsh life of a shinobi, because it is a lesson that will serve him well."

Itachi wasn't sure that any child needed to learn a lesson from him and ran through a mental check-list of candidates he could assign this 'mission' to. He was coming up with a very short list. Just a few names, Hatake Kakashi, Shirunai Genma… Umino Iruka, while not ANBU, was available and more than capable of baby-sitting the fox-child. Yes, Itachi decided that it would be most appropriate to assign Umino to this 'charity case.'

"What exactly does this mission entail?" Mistaking the question for a sign of interest, the Hokage began to explain the terms of the mission. Indefinite B-rank mission requires close contact with subject, similar to body guarding missions of Chuunin. Interestingly enough, the mission required a great deal of being seen by the community. Such high-profile activities were uncommon for ninja. Most of the assignment was taking the boy shopping for groceries and the like. Letting people see him with the boy would go a long way to driving home the point that this boy was under the protection of the Uchiha Itachi. Filing away the details, the raven-haired ANBU nodded as the Hokage finished explaining

He realized that the Hokage's plan hinged on the fact that Itachi's fearsome reputation… dammit. He did not want this mission. It was so… pedestrian. He had more important things to do.

"If that is all, Hokage-sama, I have a few details to which I must attend." He bowed when the Hokage said nothing more.

He had just put his hand on the door when the old man spoke again, "Itachi-kun… I chose you for this assignment because I have been reviewing your status reports recently," the Uchiha froze, "and they have me worried."

"I don't know what you mean." But he couldn't stop the flicker of discomfort in his stomach.

"I'm not one to rumor-monger, Commander, but people have said that you take too much enjoyment in your work. I don't want to believe it, but I have it on a very reliable source that you even go so far as to engage in unnecessary combat during ANBU missions."

The pale hand dropped away from the knob, but he did not turn.

"It is not the way of the Leaf to seek out every battle, Itachi-kun," he regarded the younger man coolly for a second, as though waiting for him to defend himself. When he did not, the Hokage continued, "It is the way of the Leaf to cherish what is important to us, not relish in the destruction of what is not. Out of all my shinobi, you should know this most." The old man let out a bone-deep sigh, "I am giving you this assignment because I want you to remember what it is that is most important to Leaf-nin, because it is my belief that you have forgotten."

Still he said nothing, doing his best impression of a statue. Inside, he was burning.

"But if this assignment is truly beneath you, Commander, then you are free to assign the responsibility to a subordinate." Itachi frowned, knowing that the elderly Hokage could not see it, "But I would prefer if you did it on your own." That was as good as a direct order.

Finally, the dark-haired youth bent, "Hai, Hokage-sama."

"But I'll let you go now. You'll excuse my musings as the prattling of an old man and pay it no heed. Think on it though… it's a perfect opportunity to embarrass your father."

Itachi stiffened. He couldn't control it, but he was positive that the Hokage knew that. It was probably why the man had dangled the idea in front of him, knowing he could not resist the desire to undermine his father.

"And for holding up the investigation?" It wasn't really a question, but he was asking for confirmation.

The Hokage smiled his wide and gentle smile, but his eyes glittered with dark humor, "I knew you were a genius, Commander."

The door gave no resistance as he exited the office. With the barest hint of a smile, Uchiha Itachi went about his task with unusual aplomb. The Sandaime Hokage was indeed a worthy adversary.

It was well after nightfall before Itachi found the small boy. The night had darkened quickly, but that proved little difficulty for the Sharingan-enhanced ANBU.

He was curled into a ball in the roots of a tree, his neck positioned awkwardly. Sleeping like that for too long would give him a headache, but that was the least of his worries.

Bruises decorated the boy's limbs like blue sponge paint. There was a gash on his cheek, though it was difficult to see through the three slash marks. His clothes were stained and dirty, an ugly color of faded orange that had a few spots far too dark to be food. Itachi recognized them instantly as dried blood.

Had he been another man, he might have sighed or scratched the back of his neck in confusion. But he wasn't another man; he was just Uchiha Itachi, and so did nothing.

"Pitiful." He frowned as soon as the word left his lips. He had meant to say 'Pathetic,' but for some reason it had come out otherwise. The two words danced in his mind. They were synonyms, yes? The only practical difference between them was the connotation attached by the beholder, so why did this self-loathing boil up inside when he said 'pitiful' instead?

Probably because the word is less harsh in the ears. And Uchiha Itachi was a man who had lived his entire life by experiencing his own emotions second-hand.

Standing not ten feet from the slumbering boy, the raven-haired commander was suddenly struck with the feeling that he was intruding. That he should not be here. Never a believer in destiny, the ANBU began to think that there might be some truth to the idea. He could feel two distinct probabilities, two futures, each revolving around this small boy… and oddly enough, his own brother.

The breath caught in his throat and he felt cold, what was this sensation? Was this genjutsu? He pushed deeper, exploring the possibilities before. Two ways… he was here at a crossroads.

And the entire future of the Leaf depended on him… depended on his decision right here, now. Fate had brought him here, yes, but what was this destiny? It may have revolved around Sasuke and Naruto, but it hinged on Itachi.

Both paths were difficult, yes. The first required a Herculean expenditure of effort in a battle against an unexpected opponent, but he would most assuredly be victorious. He had to be strong, cunning, brilliant, fast, and more amazing than he had ever thought possible. By going this route, he could see himself finally attaining the lofty height of his potential, and it brought a smile to his thin lips. There before him, he could see a red and white fan burning, a man with gills and a bandaged sword, the fangs of a snake sinking into a figure shrouded in black and crimson. His father falling, blood on Itachi's blade. Never aging, never dying, living as a legend. The vision appealed to his ego, the little part of him that he kept carefully locked away, that he could be so powerful… it was like a drug. It felt so right… his blood danced at the thought, to live the life of the ultimate warrior… free from restrictions and control… true sovereignty over his life.

The other was… treacherous. It required skill, planning, and above all caution. It was a future where wars were fought with playing pieces on a board and objectives were merely paper. Words were better weapons than shuriken or kunai and the Sharingan was nothing more than a fancy parlor-trick. He recoiled; disgusted, as he saw himself old and tired before his time, but he could not pull his mind away. A precipice yawned before him and he felt himself falling deeper. Konoha glowing in the first light of morning… a blonde man wearing the robes of the Hokage… his brother, all grown up and wearing the flak jacket of an MP Commander… a genius boy with blank eyes hunting a snake… a woman with dark hair and pleasant eyes, smiling as he returned home. Wind rushed around him and he was encompassed in whiteness.

And just as it had come, it was gone, leaving Itachi on hands and knees, gasping for breath. His Sharingan had activated somehow, though he could not remember when…

He wretched, dry heaving. He had skipped breakfast to be early for his appointment with the Hokage. He had skipped lunch searching for this boy. Wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, he drew himself to unsteady feet. His eyes glared murder at the offending appendages as he forced himself to stop shaking through sheer willpower.

What did that mean? Was it even… real? As all true shinobi, he knew that perceptions could be fooled and easily, too. It was a love-hate relationship with the five senses. You had to trust your senses to be sharp enough to complete the mission, but you couldn't rely on them because they were far from foolproof.

I must make a choice… and everything depends on this… he gazed down at the boy, too shaken to maintain his façade of callousness. This is your fault. His glare would have cut the boy in half, had Itachi developed that sort of doujutsu. Maybe he should in the future.

Turn away now, a voice whispered in his ear, walk away or rot away.

He flinched for the first time in years.

It was a dilemma. Itachi knew that he could probably go back to Konoha and find someone to retrieve the boy, but then he might awaken and move to another location before he was returned to the village. But if he were to get involved… if this boy were to know he was here…

Itachi couldn't quite understand why Naruto knowing would be an impasse… but the ANBU knew that it was something he did not want. If he did know, then was it possible Itachi would never throw off the yoke of the clan? Why would Naruto make any difference?

He was stumped, and he hated to admit it, even if it were just himself.

And glaring at the sleeping boy was getting him nowhere.

Something in his middle went soft, like brain-matter scooped out by kunai. The sensation irritated him even more, and he struggled to name his foe so he could combat it properly. All he came up with was 'pity.' But why did that make him so angry? Pity was akin to mercy and Itachi should have… had no mercy. He attempted to rationalize it. The boy deserved pity because he was pitiful. Just look at him, laying there bruised and beaten…

For the second time that day, Itachi swore, bringing him to twice this month. How dare that stupid little... child make Itachi feel sorry for him? It occurred to him that if he fumed any longer, he would realize just how angry he was later when he was forced to dispose of the evidence. And then he would be no better than the villagers that beat Naruto. The dark-haired man knew he was superior; it was a statement of fact, nothing more. So he let his anger go and focused on the problem at hand.

Naruto could never know the Uchiha was here tonight… if he did… then Itachi would be doomed to wither and fade like any common man.

But the boy was asleep, and wouldn't know who brought him home, right? Continuing this line of reasoning, Itachi decided that he could get the child back without wakening him. That would allow him to postpone the decision until he was in a more rational state of mind. Any state of mind was better than the one he was in at that moment.

Approaching soundlessly, the Uchiha scooped the small boy up carefully and set off through the trees, silently.

Sleeping soundly, the blonde snuggled closer to the ANBU, smiling softly at something only he could see. The feeling was incredibly discomfiting for the dark-haired man, and it showed through on his face.

He almost dropped the boy in shock when Naruto mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like 'Aniki.'

Itachi was beside himself. Of all the things he could have said… a quick check confirmed the boy was still sleeping. The boy did not say 'okaa-san' or 'otou-san' or 'nee-san' or any of the numerous other familial appellations. He said brother, and that hit the older man, older boy really, somewhere in the gut. Hard.

The genius Uchiha no longer wanted to make this decision. Not if it involved this boy. He didn't want to have anything to do with this boy anymore. Naruto shifted in his arms, burying his head against the powerful shoulder and gripping tightly to his ride's forearm, as though he would fall if he did not.

That tears it.

And 'It' tore like a wet paper bag in a stampede of wildebeests. Itachi planned on tracking down Umino Iruka first thing tomorrow morning and getting (forcing) him to take on the more high-profile parts of the mission. The Uchiha was more than content with watching from the shadows. If the boy was put into a situation that Umino could not handle, then (and only then) would Itachi make his presence known.

This is an acceptable deviation of mission guidelines.

After tomorrow morning, this boy would no longer be his problem. But first, he needed food. And a bath.

Little did he know the decision had already been made.

Author's notes:

WOOT! Prologues are always the hardest parts. Yes, this is an Alternate Universe fic involving ITACHI! It'll parallel the manga very closely, because Naruto has little-to-no control over the events of the manga, so it's a pretty rigid timeline. And I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone of a little thing called 'Artistic License' (It's kind of strange typing that, because I'm an engineer by trade.) Yeah, expect to see it a lot 'round these parts.

I mean, they're gonna be in the Chuunin Exam regardless of how powerful Naruto is, because Kakashi is really only focused on Sasuke's strength. However, I do plan to change some things around, because Itachi's going to do a lot more kicking around in my version of Naruto. The reason behind Sasuke's lust for power is different, of course. But those two won't really be the main characters in the story, because this is the Perfect continuity, where things have to be dark in the beginning, and then blaze into incredible glory.

Konoha will be different, but I'm confident that I can carry it off well. Painting the background details in was always my favorite part.

Oh, and if you like this story (or grow to like it) I warn you right now that I have a horrible tendency to never finish anything I write. That's why I have a lot of one-shots. I can just end those when I want to and not worry about them. (Point of Note: I have about 10 one-shots that I never got around to finishing, so don't trust me ever. When they get over 10k words, then it gets hard to call them one-shots.)

Finally, this is not a yaoi story. Pairings probably won't show up until the near end (18 year-old Naruto.) It's cute and all, but they are only twelve years old. Even people trained to kill from birth don't get together and have lasting, meaningful relationships at that age. (Though, to be fair, those sorts of people don't really do anything except kill people.)

One more thing I just remembered. Does anyone know what a 'Duplicate entry '119743' for key 1' means when trying to publish a story to AFF? I only ask because I wrote something that with some necessary lemon in it and I saw what happened to sharingank's 'Fly' (which happens to be far less graphic and far more tasteful than my own work.) and figured it wasn't even worth the effort of posting my story on FF, seeing as it'd get banned instantly. So I decided to post it on AFF and get a link in my profile. Sadly, this error keeps getting in the way of you and my own special blend of angst-smut. I call upon the masses for assistance! Together, brothers (in the Old Testament sense, when everyone was a man) we can overcome this obstacle!

Bye. See you next time. Geno Calamari is out to… looks like it's dinner.