Mikoto is seventeen years old when she is promised to the foremost family in the entirety of the Uchiha clan.

She is a distant niece of the patriarch of her clan, but it is hardly uncommon for the most influential and distinguished families of Uchiha to interbreed on occasion. As with all of her female relatives, she is incapable of using the Sharingan but she understands that she is a carrier of the necessary gene. She knows that the best chance of birthing a son capable of wielding the Sharingan is to have it be fathered by one who already has his developed. It is possible for her to have children with the Sharingan even if she does marry outside of the Uchiha bloodline, but the possibility is far too slim to rely on in the greater houses of her clan.

Mikoto visits the patriarch of the Uchiha clan only once; she drinks tea under the old man's watchful eyes and holds his wife's lap dog as the woman writes endless letters to other important families spread all throughout the Shinobi villages. She meets Uchiha Fugaku practically on accident and without even realizing it until one day a messenger shows up at her father's door with a proposal rolled up in a yellow, powdered scroll that she would have been a fool to refuse.

Fugaku and Mikoto had not exchanged even a word, only a quiet smile when he had entered his mother's room to return something he had borrowed.

Her smile has captured, if not the heart, then at least the sensibilities of the future patriarch of her clan, and that is enough. Her father is proud of her, and her sisters and older brother, and she thinks of her nieces and nephews she helped raise and daydreams of the children she will bear for her clan.

Her daydreams end shortly after the wedding, when there are no children for almost two years, and the predictions of her elderly aunts are driving her nearly mad.

"You will bear strong sons," she is told, over and over until the words lose all meaning and sense of honor. She wakes up one morning and realizes it is her debt to bear sons for her husband and no longer her privilege. "You will bear many strong sons, befitting the head of Uchiha. They will bring great honor to you and our family."

Mikoto visits shrines every day for three months, if just to escape the mindless chatter of her aunts and older cousins; she kneels until her forehead is pressed against the mats and lights enough incense to cause her eyes to redden and run with tears.

"You will bear me a son," Fugaku consoles her, whispering into the curve of her neck at night; "I am patient. The longer we wait for him, surely the greater he will be."

Mikoto finds herself praying for sons but wishing for daughters.

They are married for almost five years before she finally gives an heir to her husband.

It is a humid day in June and Mikoto thinks the heat of their bedroom will kill her if she is forced to lie there for even a moment longer. She was a slight woman before her pregnancy and the full strain of the baby's weight on her makes many of her maids cringe and carefully look away.

The older maids expect a difficult birthing and they are correct.

Mikoto goes into labor while wandering in the vast expanse of bamboo gardens behind the manor, and although it would have been safe to take her inside, the soon-to-be mother refuses to be moved. Fugaku is summoned away from a meeting with the Yondaime Hokage himself to sit with her in the long hours of her labor, who allowed no maid to do for his wife what he couldn't do himself.

It is almost noon the next day before the baby is born. In the final rushes of pain and relief over it simply being i over /i she barely comprehends what the maids are telling her, and it isn't until she is waking up back in her own bed that she discovers her child was male. She learns also that Fugaku has named their son after his grandfather and the maids tell her they've never seen such a quiet baby.

To Mikoto, it is like an obscure dream painted with thin watercolors. She grows ill, and several days pass before she finally holds Itachi in her arms for the first time.

Her first thought, regarding his silence and strange dark eyes, is: i Something is wrong. /i

She had assisted in the raising of younger siblings and cousins since she was eight years old. Her son's stillness frightens her. She calls doctors for him in secret, fearing her husband learning of some problem with his heir, but none of them uncover anything wrong with the child.

It isn't until Itachi is learning to crawl and noising his first words at a remarkably early age that she finally feels comforted. She has given her husband his heir and she has her first child.

It won't be long before she surrenders most of Itachi's training to Fugaku, but she dreams of the early years of her son's life where she can teach him to read and speak. To tell him stories of his ancestors, to tell him what his clan is; what the clan will mean to him and what he will mean to the clan.

Mikoto dreams of being the first one to place a kunai in his hand and teach him what honor is.

Itachi, from the very start, had very little consideration for the plans of anyone save himself.

By the time Itachi is barely three years old his father has taken over his first lessons in ninjutsu. Itachi knows the hand seals almost before he knows fully what they mean; only what they do. He watches with patient, curious eyes and Fugaku claims he can tell his son cannot i wait /i until he is old enough to perform the jutsus himself

Itachi's cool indifference in everything except battle disturbs her. Especially when the only sign he's interested at all is the fact that he excels in it from such an early age it would be hard to mistake it for anything else. Her husband is proud and he smiles at her with a new kind of pleasure tugging his lips.

Mikoto meets his smile with faltering eyes and fading resolve.

She had always known she would be raising a soldier, but she had always imagined he would have had to be a child first. Itachi was never a child. He was born a pale, severe adult with wide eyes that took in everything and reflected nothing.

Mikoto loves her son. She collects him in her arms and combs her fingers through his dark hair and presses kisses to his forehead even if he never seems to understand. She cannot find the words to explain it to him, and after a few years, it no longer pains her that he never returns the affection.

There comes a day however, when Itachi begins preparations to join the Ninja Academy in the following spring, that his unguarded eyes narrow curiously and he grows into even more of a serious and quiet child. She watches the change with a growing chill in her heart and one night as she brushes her hair for bed, she turns to Fugaku.

"I would like another child," she tells him, her voice unwavering. His eyes widen and his laughter echoes in their bedroom until her eyes silence him.

"Itachi is the only heir I will need, Mikoto," her husband says. "He is perfect. I could have asked for nothing better from the gods, and from you. Why another son that will grow in that boy's shadow, and perhaps someday challenge him for leadership of the Uchiha? The clan is strong. I have no desire to split it into two, like the Hyuuga have done."

Mikoto understands perfectly but he does not. She expected no less.

"Then I shall pray for daughters, husband."

Daughters. She would like a daughter to raise; a daughter with black eyes and pale skin, and Mikoto might teach her to be beautiful and deadly even if she cannot use the Sharingan like her brother and father. Mikoto would be a good mother to a daughter.

Mikoto prays, and when Itachi is five years old, her prayers are not answered but her needs are certainly met. She bears a son in the dead of night and Fugaku's first words upon seeing the boy are simply, "I will not see this house divided, Mikoto."

By dawn, all of her similar fears are alleviated when Itachi rises and holds his brother for the first time. His eyes are dark and impassive as always but wide and open as though he could barely comprehend the newness of his brother's existence.

"Mother?" Itachi murmurs and Mikoto realizes it is the first time he has called her "mother" in three days. Surprised but warmly pleased, she smiles.

"This is Sasuke, Itachi. He is your little brother. You will protect him, won't you?"

Mikoto wasn't sure what she was expecting, but his silence unnerves her.

A new fear grows in her chest, buried so deeply she doesn't dare dig it out to inspect it.

Mikoto is grateful that Sasuke is unlike his brother. She loves Itachi greatly but she isn't sure what she might do if she had borne another just like him.

She is the one who teaches him to walk, who holds his hands and teaches him his very first words. Eventually, she sees signs that Sasuke is emulating his brother and she decides she will be pleased with this. Itachi has been hailed a prodigy of the Uchiha bloodline at the age of nine, and it certainly could not hurt her second son to learn from his brother.

Her eyes follow them as closely as she dares and she does not understand why. Something is slipping away from her understanding, back into the blur of sound and colorful confusion that haunted her in the days after Itachi's birth. Something is creeping out of her control and neither she nor Fugaku know how to reclaim it.

She realizes, one night with her husband's arms curled around her stomach, just as she feels him fall to sleep, that he has not praised Itachi in her presence in months. For a long time, he doesn't confide anything about either of their sons to her.

There is a night, a week before Sasuke's fourth birthday, that she hears Fugaku whisper to her, "I believe Sasuke has much more promise than I had originally thought," before he falls to sleep. It is almost a month before he mentions Sasuke in such a way to her again, but in the days that follow, it becomes a very regular practice.

"He doesn't throw kunai as well as Itachi can," Fugaku says, tenting his fingers over his chin and lips as he thinks. She has seen Sasuke copy him sloppily at the dinner table, and it pleases her endlessly. "But he has a great deal of potential. Perhaps if I had tried to hone his skills earlier… I was so preoccupied…"

With Itachi. Itachi whose eyes grow more distant by the day and Mikoto knows that her son is escaping to a place where she cannot follow.

She places her hand on her husbands shoulder.

"I am glad you did not. I have been given the second son I desired. He will be a great ninja in his own right, someday."

Fugaku smiles with a tired sigh. "I am looking forward to that day."

It comes up but once between them. Mikoto wants to blame him for not speaking up sooner, but she understands that he would have if she had been ready to listen.

"I've seen the warrant," Fugaku explains firmly, "and I've seen the reports made on him by various members of the Anbu. The warrant is not yet signed. I have been talking at great length with Hokage-sama about it."

Mikoto is silent in the darkness of their bedroom. He stands like a statue in the doorway as she sits on the edge of their bed and waits patiently for him to finish. She does not trust herself to speak.

"He is being…lenient. He has granted me some time, but there is no doubt about it. Itachi will be arrested within the month."

There is a sharp pain in the center of Mikoto's chest.

"Fugaku…"

"There is nothing I can do. It is out of my power now."

She turns to her husband with ice and death in her eyes. "How is this out of your power? He is our i son. /i "

"Our son is a traitor."

Mikoto's hand gathers into a tight fist. If she were standing before her husband, she can almost clearly see her white hand striking out against his dark face.

He continues, more softly, "You would help him, even now, Mikoto? Even as he takes such drastic steps against us? Against the clan? Haven't you heard the allegations that he murdered Uchiha Shisui? You would help him?"

She turns toward him slowly in the dark. He can almost see distant lantern light from the courtyard glittering in the depths of her black eyes.

"He is my son." Mikoto whispers. "I would die for him."

He doesn't understand. She doesn't expect him to.

There came a night, six days before Itachi's planned arrest, in which he returns home early from a mission and finds well over twenty of his relatives blocking the road to his front door.

Suspicions of his part in the possible murder of one of the Uchiha clan's most beloved sons was too much for some of his family it seemed; they were unwilling to wait the rest of the week until his arrest. They assumed that numbers would win over Itachi's brutal and almost uncontrollable strength, and they were wrong.

They lose. And quickly. His chakra alone knocks his cousins off their feet.

And Mikoto would have had to been a fool to not understand what was unfolding just behind her front door. Fugaku holds onto her arm as though he means to bodily remove her from their home, as though that might do any good in hiding from Itachi.

Their son. Their firstborn son.

There is blood seeping under the front door, and the shadow of footsteps immediately follows. Otherwise there is no sign that anyone is standing in their doorway at all. There isn't a sound; not even the sound of a katana being sheathed, or a single heavy breath to signal i some /i kind of hesitance.

There was none. She expected no less.

Fugaku tugged more insistently on her arm. Urging and silent but she is unmovable. The sounds of screaming have dimmed around them, and as she turns to meet her husband's eyes it becomes painfully clear that the very last of the Uchiha protecting the patriarch of their clan had been defeated. There was nothing but a doorway separating Mikoto from her son. From her death.

The door slides open and he is there. He is covered in their prized Uchiha blood and she knows immediately that not a drop of it is his own. At her side, Fugaku stills. It is only then that her trembling begins.

"Itachi—" Mikoto whispers, taking a step back into the steady, warm wall of her husband's chest. Her son inclines his head and shuts the door behind him.

"Mother," he replies. His voice is soft and flawless like fine silk. She has visions of white ribbons spotted in red blood. His dark eyes dart curiously around the room, and bravely she steps forward.

"Sasuke isn't here."

"I know."

Itachi advances on her so closely she can smell her family's blood on him.

What clans and whole villages could not do, her son has done. Her son, i her /i son has shaken and destroyed their bloodline to the very core. There was no one left but she, her husband, and her sons.

"Will you kill him? You promised you would protect him—"

"I made no such promise, Mother." Itachi interrupts her quietly. There is stillness in his eyes that she does not recognize. She would like to say, i This is not my son. /i

She would like, more than anything, to believe just that.

Itachi draws his katana from his sheath. Behind her, Fugaku has fallen quietly to his knees, although she knows better than to think he was begging for his life. Mikoto, for a moment, wants to remind him of the pride he held for this son.

i Here he is. The height of everything the Uchiha has sought to create. There have been none like him in all of our great history. There is absolute certainty that there will be none like him to follow. He has guaranteed just that. /i

Itachi is her son. Even at this moment, at the greatest betrayal he could ever commit, Mikoto seeks to be a mother to her child. She wants, in that instant, for him to accomplish everything he considered important enough to slaughter the clan for. He is her son. She would die for him.

Mikoto smiles and almost reaches out to touch him.

She will die for him. Her final debt to the Uchiha clan.

In that instant, she sees that he regrets nothing and she is unsurprised to find she feels the same.