Summary: He's not perfect, and he's wondering when that first became a problem. (Itachi-fic)

AN: Hate Itachi. So much. So of course, he's gone and eaten my brain, my fanfiction muse and my time. I hate him. Yes I do. Uh, beware (intentional) tense changes and general wtf-edness. As always, criticism is the highest form of praise.


Sasuke didn't ask what was wrong when he stumbled into the house, left a trail of blood along one wall from the palm of one bloody hand, and promptly threw up in the bathroom toilet. Sasuke didn't ask because at this point, he knew better.

"Niisan…?" And there he was, standing in the doorway on one foot, scratching at the back of his ankle with the other. The sound was strange, like what happens when you peel skin away from layers of muscle and fat. Itachi wanted to tell him to stop. Instead he wiped his mouth with the back of a hand and smiled faintly in response.

"I'm fine, Sasuke. Go back to bed."

"Did you…the blood…?" He looked worried, now, eyes wide, mouth drawn into a faintly bowed pout. Itch apparently diminished, he stood on both feet and wobbled a little less. He'd never been in possession of a ninja's coveted balance. But he was six, and worried about his big brother, and that in itself made up for all the flaws he had, for all the things he could never become. For all the things that Itachi would have to turn him into for him to get anywhere in the world.

Itachi nodded, a quick, almost severe gesture. "It's all right; I'll take care of it."

"But…! That's not…I mean, are you hurt?"

Itachi didn't have the heart to tell him yes. He shifted a little, so the worst of the bloodstains on his uniform were concealed by shadows. "It's not my blood," he said matter-of-factly. And Sasuke, so trustingly, returned his nod.

"Well…okay…but I'll help clean it up if…if you want."

"That won't be necessary." And indeed, it wouldn't. There were half a dozen jutsu that he could think of that would remove the blood without leaving a stain, or even a faint trace of chakra. By the time their parents arrived home, it would be as if it had never happened. Itachi preferred things that way. He gestured for Sasuke to come closer, and when he did, Itachi flicked his forehead in his usual manner. "Go to bed and sleep well, otouto."

Sasuke looked torn between wanting to stay and ask what had happened, how he was, why did he look so pale, but in the end, discipline won out over curiosity, and he allowed himself to be ushered off. Itachi promised to help train tomorrow, all the while knowing that it would (could, should never) not come to pass. But the way that Sasuke settled down and looked hopeful all the same…rankled him somewhat.

Itachi dimmed the lights and went to clean the blood off the walls.

The thing that Itachi disliked about being an Uchiha was the fact that he had to prove himself to everyone that he met outside of his clan. It was, he realized, a problem stemming from the dissatisfaction that the commoners had from refusing to accept the Uchiha as being their betters. Everyone wanted to fight him, to test their own worth, and everyone who did lost. He made few allies and even fewer friends, even though the camaraderie of Konohagakure was a legend unto itself. No one wanted to befriend a child who could defeat them with one hand tied behind his back.

His missions were not standard, but neither were they above the appropriate skill-level for his rank of Chuunin. Trouble followed at his heels like a mangy dog and stole scraps off his table when he wasn't looking. Half the time he went to sleep, he expected to wake up dead.

He did what was expected of him, completed his mission parameters and often exceeded those. He didn't mind being hated, for that and being a genius walked hand in hand. He didn't and would never crave the company of others, something that had always puzzled those that did not know him. They said that to live alone, one must be either an animal or a god.

He was neither, but he supposed he had time to grow.

Itachi is not a sentimental person. The first time he kills a man, he is a few months shy of his ninth birthday. When he arrives home after the incident, his father congratulates him on becoming a man and his mother watches him with dark, sad eyes and promises to make his favorite dish for supper while she pretends she doesn't hate that his hands are stained with blood. She has a certain attachment to him -the first born son- that Itachi cannot comprehend. Sasuke, then just a child, doesn't understand why everyone is so excited while his brother is so solemn. But then, Sasuke has lived fewer years than Itachi has adult teeth, so that in itself is not a surprise.

Itachi isn't particularly enthused one way or another. It was something he's studied to do, it's something he is expected to do, and it was something he has done. That is all. One does not know where the jugular vein is just for knowing's sake. Knowledge is for using, and that knowledge divides humans into two groups. Those that are willing to use what they know, and those that aren't. As with all things, there are areas of gray that can be questioned and debated and talked over until the talkers turn blue in the face, but Itachi does not mind the twilight. He has, after all, lived there most of his life.

Itachi is not sentimental, but he is human. But he is a human in the possession of a veritable well of knowledge, and he considers it criminal to let such things go to waste. He knows that he will grow up, and that he will fight, and that eventually he will die, and all of his knowledge will die with him. Thus, he sees no harm in making the best of what he knows and who he is as the opportunities present themselves.

Itachi is a genius. His genius is not limited by petty inhibitions, because it is as boundless as he will allow, no matter how his family fetters him down. You are my son, Itachi. Be a good son. Yet, he can't bring himself to care. He looks at the man that sired him and he thinks, why should you be important to me?

Fathering a child does not make one a parent, just as killing a human does not make one a murderer. They are the same, in principal. Maybe fathering a child comes from a night of ill-slaked passion, and maybe killing a human comes from self defense. Whatever the reason, whatever the motives, the core definition will always differ.

Itachi looks at the man that sired him and he thinks, I am not like you.

Itachi does not like unnecessary things. His heart beats, and his lungs inflate and deflate as he breathes, and his central nervous system keeps itself informed of the happenings of his body with little electrical jolts that are too mild to feel but that exist regardless; underneath the underneath. Itachi dresses in necessary clothing and carries necessary weapons and he performs necessary menial tasks. He does not like the sweet things that his mother adds to his bento, he does not like her quick flighty hugs, he does not like his father's gruff compliments. He doesn't need them. He knows his mother cares for him and that his father is proud of him. Hearing such things makes them redundant and with redundancy comes stagnation. Itachi is well aware that the village and that his clan wants to mark his progress and keep him in check and under their control.

Itachi looks at the people that birthed him and he thinks, you did not raise me. You do not know me because I am not who you want me to be. You are afraid of what I am capable of.

It's been a while since his mother has asked him to take out the garbage or do the dishes, or since his father has asked him to fetch wood. They do not ask because they might not like his response. They do not ask because he is the youngest Uchiha to ever awaken the Sharingan. They do not ask because Itachi has killed a man and he's not even showing remorse. They'd been prepared for rage, or for questions, or for anything that parents could be prepared for, and yet they hadn't anticipated Itachi merely coming home and continuing on as if everything was as subnormal as the life of a ninja could be.

When Itachi is thirteen, and has been a member of ANBU for all of three months, he receives his first S-ranked mission. The specs are simple and uniform and militaristic, like what is expected of ANBU, and the words are written on purified rice paper. The ink is splotchy and is old enough to have soaked into it, and it makes the kanji blur a little. So Itachi receives his first S-Rank mission, and he shoulders his katana and he pulls a mask down over the mask he already wears and he leaves, and he comes back fourteen days later and no one asks what happened, no one asks if he's all right. His injuries are treated at the local Uchiha clinic and no one comments on the unusual abrasions. Because Itachi is the fruition of all the Uchiha clan could ever have hoped for with its founding; he is something of a figurehead. The model child. Strong and smart and genius, and every scar mapped across his body is just one more trophy.

But Itachi is not sentimental, and he has never cared for trophies.

After that mission, the suspicions started to build. He's learned our secret. We have to silence him.

No, no, wait until he's sired a child. Then we will dispose of him. The child we can control.

Itachi listens without hearing and looks without seeing and he knows all too well what the future has planned for him. But Itachi does not believe in destiny, because he is the one who makes his choices. He is the one who decides what to do and when, and where, and to whom. And because it is he who decides these things and not some omnipotent being that hovers on his shoulder like a blood stain that cannot be washed away, he decides for himself that the future is free to shape.

When Itachi kills his best friend, it is not without regret. The fight is neither quick nor particularly vicious, because Shisui was not expecting him to take the simple competition too far. He and Shisui have been friends for what seems like eternity. It used to be that wherever Shisui went, Itachi was a step behind, but that has since changed. Itachi knows that between the two of them, that he is stronger. Tonight, he proves it.

Shisui falls, and as if countered by a scale, Itachi's expectations of his own personal parameters rise with his death. Before him, Shisui was the prodigy, the genius, and tonight he is dead and not for all the world would Itachi trade this victory. Shisui's development would have been retarded by the rest of the Uchiha, and Itachi does not like unnecessary things, which is eventually what Shisui would have become. This way, he will remain forever a genius and forever a handsome young man with a ready smile and a steady hand. He will not age, he will not falter, he will not fail a comrade on a mission. The dead have only honor.

Itachi grants strange mercies, and does not expect gratitude for them.

Itachi is not a sentimental person, but he is human. So he closes the eyes of his dead best friend and he lets a hand fall to the other boy's neck, where he checks for the pulse he knows he will not find. His fingers are calloused and rough with work and death and desperation, and he touches a necklace. It's a very simple thing, probably wrought by some sweetheart, because Shisui was as handsome as he was talented, and the little nodes of metal are cool beneath Itachi's chilled hands.

Carefully, he disentangles the necklace from the boy's wet hair (for he used a water technique to kill him, because conventional Uchiha can use only fire and Itachi is as conventional as he is compassionate) and drapes it over his palm, studying it. It's a curious little trinket to pilfer from the dead, but it will not be missed.

Shisui was many things that Itachi could never have been.

But he was inhibited, and Itachi is not.

And so the prodigy of the Uchiha clan puts a necklace in his pocket and drags a body into a lake and wonders what his mother has made for dinner.

Three days after the Uchiha Massacre, Itachi is in a hotel room so far away from somewhere that it's effectively nowhere. He's sitting on the bed, tapping his fingers against his thigh in rhythm to his breathing. He doesn't like the fact that it's a little faster than normal. But this is the first time he's had time to sit and think since the first sword-strike fell, and he hasn't even stopped to wipe the blood off his hands. He put his sword away dirty, and he gets it out of the sheath with difficulty and sits with the tarnished blade across his knees.

He can see his reflection etched in blood.

Carefully, he wipes it down until it shines silver again, and then he rinses the sheath in the musty bathtub with its rusty taps and its water that runs black and then red and then he leans them both against the wall. He lies down on the bed and tilts his face towards the ceiling, but his eyes are seeing inward. He thinks of Sasuke, the blank slate upon which he wrought his artistic intentions. He will grow, certainly, but Itachi doubts that Sasuke will ever surpass him. Even living to hate him, the purpose of his existence solely to kill him, Sasuke does not have what it takes.

Oh, he'll try. He'll come after him years later and challenge him, and Itachi will win and the betrayal will start over again. Because, Itachi thinks, he will remember me too fondly.

His resolve had not wavered as he hunted down his kinsmen through the streets and killed them one-by-one. It wasn't swayed by the pleas of children or mothers or the weary resignation of those who had lived their lives in full. He had looked his father and mother in the eyes and it had only caused him to hasten the down sweep of his sword by a fraction of a second.

He had told Sasuke to live in shame and to hate him, and he did not once regret his words.

He lays awake for a long time and listens to the sound of his own breathing, and eventually he falls asleep, and it is not without surprise that he realizes he is no longer expecting to wake up dead.