Author's Note: Those of you looking for lemons or fluff will hate this. Turn back now and go find yourself some Uchihacest pr0n to read. This is not meant to make you pity Uchiha Itachi. Rather, it's my interpretation of the story behind the shinobi who bears the character "scarlet" on his ring, from cradle to manhood, told through Itachi's eyes. And the world through Itachi's eyes is a place where genius and ambition blur the line between good and evil . . .
"Chichi-ue" means "father."
OoO SCARLET OoO
Blurs the line of shine and shadow;
Lights my crimson path
Prologue: Reunion of the Two
My hand clenches into a fist around this fragile throat, so forcefully that even I am surprised . . . and I don't surprise easily. Beneath my thumb I feel the delicate pulse of the vein, so much more rapid and frantic than mine. It's the pulse of a rabbit caught in the jaws of the wolf. I can feel the muscles knotting in his neck as he struggles for breath; muscles that were not there when last I laid a hand on him. Yet for all the changes, not much has changed. Pathetically his fingers claw at my forearm, forsaking all strength in his desperation to live. He's still so very desperate to live.
Is that all?
Is that ALL?
I press more of my body weight into my fist, pinning him so firmly against the wall that he can't even turn his head. And I stare coldly into his pale, young face; his wide, dark eyes, searching for myself.
OoO OoO OoO
OoO OoO Chapter 1: Prodigy OoO OoO
When I was three I remember a neighbor telling my mother that I was an old soul in a child's body. Given the hindsight of an adult, I doubt the old man meant it entirely as a joke. I was a serious child. My mother told me time and time again that from the moment I was born I smiled only at the strangest of things. I never laughed at the odd faces adults make for infants, or at the gifts my relatives lavished upon me. But I laughed whenever my father spoke to me.
"He's mocking you, Uchiha-san," a friend once told my father.
"Of course not!" my father insisted, grasping me firmly beneath my arms and lifting me deftly above his head. "My child is full of life, and he knows it."
Then he would lower me with his strong arms and set me back on my feet.
"You love Chichi-ue, don't you?" he would say to me softly, as if to keep it secret from everyone else. "My Itachi."
Did I love him? Maybe I did. Not that it matters.
Even before I learned to walk, I began running away. I crawled onto the porch, or into the small garden in the courtyard behind our house. My parents worried, but they needn't have. I wasn't the sort of infant to reach for everything in sight and put it in my mouth. No; I was a watcher. Instead of crawling out into the street where I might've been stepped on, I sat on the porch and stared with avid fascination at the passers-by. When they found me, my parents would lift me into their arms and clasp me to them fiercely, alternately scolding and proclaiming their relief.
But my father was also proud of my curiosity.
"He's so eager to see what's going on in the village," he would claim proudly over dinner with my uncles. "Already my child Itachi knows his place."
But I didn't want to see what was happening. My frank child's eyes showed me the truth of that. What I wondered as I watched them pass me by was "Why?" Why did the men and women carry weapons while their children ran laughing through the streets? Why did some laugh, while others wept or wore faces grim as death? Of course, my mind couldn't form these questions into words at so young an age, but the questions were there nonetheless. I didn't learn to speak properly until I was nearly three years old. Speech just wasn't important to me when I was busy drinking the world in through my eyes.
But once I began to speak, and to join the other children in their games, I began to hear the word "genius" used often around me. Though small, I was the strongest of the Uchiha children---except for Shisui, who was four years older than me and could move so fast his body blurred. I was aware that people were beginning to call me "genius," and from the very first I didn't like it. I was a boy, not a word. But the adults who saw the way I watched things and who listened to what I had to say always began to refer to "that genius Itachi," and not to me.
"I'm right here," I would insist, planting myself in front of them when they spoke that way. "I'm Itachi." And they'd laugh and lavish me with affection, thinking that was what I wanted.
I wasn't really certain what I wanted at that point---maybe something worthwhile to do to distract me from the endless chorus of "Why? Why? Why?" in my head.
Just two years after I mastered speech there was talk of sending me to school. And it wasn't just any school, but the Konoha Academy itself. My family wanted me to skip the preliminary school and enroll directly, though this would put me in with classmates twice my age. I wasn't sure what to make of this notion, but if it was something new I was willing to try. My enrollment at the age of five was an unusual request, but my parents were strongly adamant about it. I'd learned to read and write soon after learning to speak, and in that sense I was already beyond the level of those entering the preliminary school. My father in particular saw great potential in me, and he wanted me to learn the ninja's trade as soon as possible. My precocious strength excited him, because I think that even then he foresaw the day when I would surpass him. All fathers, I suppose, wish for their children to surpass them. But I think they also secretly fear it, for never is the waning of age so apparent to a man's eyes as when he bears witness to the waxing of youth.
Perhaps I am an old soul . . . Not that it matters.
The request for my premature enrollment in Konoha's ninja academy was apparently such an anomaly that it required the highest consideration. The Hokage himself came to visit our house, along with several of my uncles, who were men of particular influence both in the Uchiha Clan and in Konoha's policing force. The day the Hokage came I was sitting in the garden by myself, crouched by the little stream that ran through its center and utterly absorbed. My parents had left me to myself for a bit while they discussed their proposal with the others, and I was content to let them, because even if I had attended it wasn't as if they were going to talk to me.
So I sat bent over the stream, playing. I'd made a game of darting my hand into the water and withdrawing it as quickly as possible without making ripples. I wasn't aware of the Hokage's presence behind me until he quite deliberately stepped on a stick.
I half-turned and saw a young man with yellow hair and very sharp blue eyes standing there. He wasn't what I'd been expecting. Having only seen the Hokage from afar and in ceremonial dress, I'd pictured him as an older man, with dark hair like the Uchiha and a far more impressive stature. This man was of medium height, and looked as if he were at least ten years younger than my father. He smiled warmly at me, but he was obviously here to study me and see if I really was that genius Itachi. I didn't return the smile.
"What are you doing?" he asked me, kneeling down beside me on the gray flagstones bordering the stream.
I returned my attention to my dripping hand, which I still held poised above the water. Suddenly my game seemed childish to me, and I wished he hadn't caught me at it. I was unnerved by his presence because I didn't think a Hokage should be sitting beside me on the ground when he was so much more powerful. But he seemed to be waiting patiently for my answer, so I replied, "Testing myself."
This elicited a laugh from him, and I stared at him in surprise. His whole face seemed to flash when he laughed, like a mirror catching the sun.
"Oh, I see," he chuckled. "Well, then I suppose I don't need to test you. But why are you testing yourself? Are you worried about being allowed into school?"
I shook my head, looking down again.
"I want to know what I can do," I told him solemnly. "I don't care how strong other people think I am."
He smiled at me again, but this time it was a quiet smile, and his gaze was thoughtful.
"That's very wise, Itachi-kun," he told me, and once again I looked at him in surprise. The Hokage was looking at me as if he truly understood me, which I found comforting and unnerving at the same time. "Can you show me?" he asked, gesturing toward the water. Mutely, I nodded.
Then I bent over the stream and demonstrated how I could cut through the water's surface by wielding my hand like a blade, leaving only the faintest of disturbances. The Hokage seemed duly impressed, but he didn't praise me for it. Instead he said, "I've heard that you don't speak much. But you are very gifted, Itachi-kun, and you must not be afraid to tell people what you're thinking."
I knew then what it was that he'd been discussing with my parents at such length.
Not two days beforehand my mother had told me she was going to have another child. I wasn't sure what she expected of me, but I was interested. I asked her why mothers wanted to give birth to children.
She smiled gently at me and said, "Because we love them."
I frowned at her. "But what's the reason?"
She pulled me into her embrace, saying only, "Children are born to be loved," to which my only response was to nod seriously.
I could see she was troubled by this.
"Are you happy, Itachi?" she asked unexpectedly.
I blinked in bemusement.
"I don't know," was my final answer.
A child at the time, I didn't understand what it was she wanted. But somehow, because of something I had or hadn't said, I'd made her unhappy. This, in turn, troubled me, because it was something I didn't understand. But later I learned that this was why she'd suddenly begun to share my father's adamancy about my enrolling early in the academy. She felt I was too "isolated," and that I needed to "interact with others more." She was worried.
And I was confused, because I'd made her worry.
I realized the Hokage wasn't there that day to test my skills. He was there to see if I were really as worrisome as my parents claimed. Wanting to please him, I answered, "I want to go to school. I want to learn new things, and to understand other people. That's what I think."
He gazed at me in silence for a moment; a silence broken only by the babbling of the brook. Then he laughed again, flashing the sun's brightness in my earnest little face.
"Uchiha Itachi, if only all our students wanted to learn so badly," he told me. "Konoha would be full to the brim with Jounin."
I was very young then, and eager to please; especially the Yondaime, who spoke to me and not that genius, and whom I, like other children my age, had always idolized because of the stories we'd heard of him. I thought the academy might really give me the answers to my why's, and I told him so in so many words. He grew more serious then, and laid a firm hand on my shoulder.
"The Uchiha bloodline carries great responsibility," he said, "because it's so powerful. But there's a difference between being powerful and being strong, Itachi-kun. A powerful man asks, 'What can I do?' A strong man asks, 'What can I do for others?' When you begin learning a ninja's arts, you are accepting the possibility that you may die defending the ones you're obligated to protect."
I stared at him, and my mouth fell open a little. No one had ever said something like that to me before, and I was stunned. I'd never thought of where my precocious strength was leadingme; I'd only been aware of the fact that it was leading me. That was what he intended in coming to speak to me that day; to make me aware of the loyalties that bound the Leaf-nin to their village.
He was doing so because the powerful ones who failed to learn that before becoming more powerful often became dangerous.
But back then, I didn't see it that way. I was in awe that the Yondaime had deigned to speak with me, and fascinated by the idea of being willing to die for other people. He had very strong charisma, the Fourth did. That was why we all looked up to him. Sitting there beside him in the courtyard, I thought to myself, The Hokage knows many answers. I want to grow into a man just like him.
He explained to me what the ninja code of honor meant to him, which I listened to with rapt attention. Then he rose and left me, stepping through the sliding door into the house to confer again with my parents. Left to myself, I leaped to my feet and rushed to my room. There I found a quill and a scroll and wrote down everything that he had told me, so I'd never forget. I would destroy it eight years later, in deep disgust. It was no great loss; there was no real wisdom in his ideas about strength.
The Fourth was a fool.
He was defeated not by Kyuubi, but by his own brave, stupid ideals.
Shinobi are not born powerful to make martyrs of themselves.
But my disillusionment didn't come for many years, and so when I was small I idolized the Yondaime like all the others.
The verdict was reached, of course, that I was indeed to be sent to school. I was to begin the same term as my cousin Shisui, which meant within three weeks of the decision being made.
On the appointed day, I set out from home with a bento from my mother and a head full of questions. At my side walked Shisui, seeming a great deal less optimistic. He was usually such a cheerful person, but that day he seemed full of some grim sense of duty. I was curious.
"Does Shisui-sempai not like coming to school with me?" I asked him. He had never bullied me, though he was far stronger and could have if he'd wanted to.
Now he turned to look at me, very solemn with his shaggy black hair falling over his face and his jaw set with determination.
"I will look after you, Itachi" he told me firmly. "It's important that we go together."
I wasn't too keen on this. "Did Chichi-ue tell you to?"
"Yeah," he admitted, with hardly any sheepishness. "But I've already decided that it's my special mission."
"What Class mission is it?" I asked, distracted again by my curiosity. "D? A? S?"
This made him laugh. He always found things I said funny that I hadn't meant to be funny at all, but I didn't mind. He always called me Itachiand never that genius.
By the end of our first day at school, however, I realized why my father had been worried. With my other classmates, it was hatred at first sight. They didn't like that I knew all the answers, they didn't understand my unabashed desire to learn, and they certainly disliked being out-shown by someone three years younger than they were. I believe I would've been a target for bullying if it weren't for Shisui. When I walked home from school with him, moving in his shade like a shadow, the others shot us looks but never bothered us.
As I've said before, Shisui was the strongest of the younger Uchiha, and in those days he walked around with a chip on his shoulder. He never returned the glares, but sometimes his eyes would flash red, for the briefest of instants. He was warning them that I was his shadow, and they had no right to harm me. Shisui always was a hothead; my parents said so. The Uchiha were widely respected, and he seemed to take any hostility toward me as an affront to his Clan. He treated me like a friend, but also like a symbol of the Uchiha, whose honor he was bound to protect. I can't say I liked being treated like a symbol any more than that genius, but I liked Shisui. Maybe even loved him; he became like my brother. Not that any of that matters.
Well . . . maybe it did matter, after all. Without that bond, I wouldn't be what I am today. I owe him that, at least.
But it's enough to say that in those days, the both of us were alone together often, and so came to prefer each others' company.
A year rolled by. My mother's belly grew large and low-slung; my aunts said she was carrying a girl. When she finally gave birth, on a dull, hot summer day, it was a boy. I was allowed in to see them afterward and I remember it well: my mother sweaty with her black hair straggled across her brow; the tiny creature in her arms red and screaming. My father came in behind me, silent but proud. He laid a large hand on the crowns of each of our heads---mine and my brother's---and he stood there for a moment as if just by touching us both he was connecting us together in his heart. His Uchiha children, who would one day bear the Sharingan as he did. His sons, who would fight side by side for the glory of our clan. I felt no connection, though. Whatever my father felt, to me it was just a hand resting on my head, a little heavy. I wanted to shake it off.
I didn't hate my new brother, but neither did I love him. He was simply there. The only active good that came of his presence in the house was that he kept my mother occupied. I was glad she had another child to care for; it distracted her from worrying about me.
In the meantime, I was growing stronger under the tutelage of the Academy. I always practiced with Shisui; he taught me things he'd learned in his more advanced classes. This, of course, only served to deepen the resentment my own classmates bore me. But I was beginning to realize just how stupid their hatred was, and how little it meant to me. After all, I would one day become much stronger than they were, and the Hokage had told me it was the duty of the strong to protect the weak. In my eyes, they were weak, because all they could do was hate me.
My heart was firmly set upon becoming a strong man.
And then . . . the Fourth died. Three months later. Swiftly, like a flame snuffed by the wind.
One day, as Shisui and I were heading for school, the sentries at Konoha's gates sent out cries of alarm. The news went traveling across the Village like wildfire, even before the earth began to shake. A great demon fox bearing nine tails was headed straight for our village. I don't know its true origin---the Kyuubi's. At that time, Konoha was newly out of a war with the Stone Country. Our list of casualties was long---particularly the Uchiha, which I will speak of later. Once the Kyuubi reached the village, the list grew. Our forces were deployed a second time, to face a threat unlike any they'd ever faced before---or at least a force that none of those living in that era could remember facing.
The ground trembled and shook, and some of the older buildings collapsed. As was standard in times of invasion, the civilians, women and children were herded into underground shelters. There is a particularly large network of tunnels under Konoha, all of which lead to larger chambers beneath the mountain where the Hokage memorial monument is carved. It's a dank, musty place with poor lighting and even poorer water quality. To say nothing of sewage. Of course we didn't complain, because we were shinobi children and already we had been taught that suffering was our fate in life. There were no screams or flights of panic as we filed into the tunnels. There might have been tears, but mine were not among them. I was only five, but I had left tears behind me long ago.
After an endless journey in darkness, breathing in stale air that made our eyes sting, we reached the large chambers beneath the mountain. And there we waited, sitting huddled on the floor and smelling the stink of each others' fear. You can smell fear on others; something in the sweat. It was stifling there. To get away from it, I climbed upward, following a long system of ladders through vertical tunnels. They led me to a place where I could squeeze out a hole in the rock little bigger than a dinner plate. An adult would not have been able to fit; I was fortunate to be so small and slight at that age.
I crawled into daylight, squinting and rubbing the dust from my eyes, and found myself on a narrow ledge on the cliff face. It was very high; I'd climbed a long ways. But I quickly forgot any fear of vertigo once my eyes adjusted to the brightness.
I could see it. The demon. It was enormous; taller than our buildings. Red and raw and powerful, chakra bleeding off it into the air like flames. A chilling autumn wind swept against the mountainside, but I rose shakily into a standing position. Buildings were falling. Trees were cracking and snapping away from the massive tails like matchsticks. Everywhere---in Konoha and in the forests beyond---there were screams of agony and shouts of encouragement; flares of jutsu and bodies tossed carelessly like pebbles, broken and flung from claws and razor-iron jaw as it snarled and wheeled about. Its destruction knew no direction. When anything is that powerful, there is no need for reason, nor for fear. The Kyuubi's massive tails swept to and fro, bruising the land and beating a path further toward the main walls of the village. The adults I knew were there somewhere. They were ants beneath its feet. From the distance at which I watched, they were ants to me. I couldn't hear the roar of crumbling stone, the shriek of bending metal, the thunder of each terrible footfall. But I knew that this thing would kill and kill and kill until we were all mashed lumps of flesh, smeared across the rubble. I knew it instinctively. And for the first time, I felt true terror.
A trickle of warmth down one of my legs. Body shaking so badly I would've fallen if I weren't rooted to the spot. Heart a rapid tattoo against my ribs. Breath an uneven pattern of short, sharp exhalations and hisses.
A word came to me then. Beautiful. I have never thought anything beautiful since.
The demon's power; my raw fear . . . in that strange moment there didn't seem to be any difference between the two. We both saw the village falling, and the warriors scurrying like ants, from a view high above what forces Konoha could muster to drive it back. It was like I was seeing it all through the beast's crimson eyes.
I could not see it, but my own eyes had gone crimson with the gleam of the Sharingan.
"ITACHI!" someone shouted. Behind me. A hand grasping my ankle firmly. "GET THE HELL BACK HERE! DO YOU WANT TO DIE?"
I recognized the voice. And I looked away from the panorama of destruction before me, breaking the spell.
"I don't want to die," I replied, in a tight, strained voice that sounded very little like my own, let alone like a child's. Obediently I crouched down and pushed my way back through the hole. I had only gotten halfway through when rough arms pulled me the rest of the way. I had scraped myself on the rock and it hurt; there was a smear of blood across one cheek. But I soon found my faced pressed against Shisui's chest, so tightly I almost couldn't breathe. It was part relieved embrace and part punishment; he might've cracked my ribs.
"Don't get lost again, you little shit," he snarled down at the top of my head.
Then his grip on me loosened so that he was only steadying me against him on the ladder, and we began our descent to rejoin the others.
I smiled a little in the darkness. It was good he didn't see me smile, because he might have punched me in the face for it. No one ever called me names to my face, because I was too special a child to deserve that. But to Shisui, that day in the tunnel and thereafter, I was a brat who needed a keeper. Yes, I believe I did love him. And I started loving him for that.
I didn't know then, or for many years, though, that love was a tool to be used.
OoO OoO OoO
The war ended. The Kyuubi was vanquished---sealed into the belly of a very stupid child, but I knew nothing of that at the time.
The Fourth Hokage, the most powerful man in Konoha, was dead. I stood with my clan at the funeral, beside my father. I cried for the Yondaime, though it was more out of confusion than grief for loss of him. He had seemed so strong to me. I had thought he might live forever. I had thought that the ideals they drummed into our head---protecting with our lives---would somehow keep us all from dying in the battles we fought by giving us strength of our own. But he was dead.
My father stood beside me, tall and dark and grim, and he didn't weep. He was too raw with grief to bear it openly. He only laid a hand on my head, and again it was heavy and I wanted to shake it off. Then he looked down at me. I will never forget how he looked, even now that he's dead and long rotten in the ground.
He wore a long black cloak emblazoned with the Uchiha crest, fluttering around him like dark wings. There was a scar across his brow, puckered and ugly with stitches. But that was not what made my breath catch in my throat. His squared jaw, his furrowed brow, his eyes that had once looked softly on me grown cold and purposeful.
In the battle, the Uchiha had been sent to the front lines to face down the demon's threat. My uncle---my father's brother; the head of our clan---had been killed. This meant two things: the first, that my father was now essentially the leader of the Uchiha. The second, that I was now the heir apparent to his position. In his eyes, in that moment at the funeral, I became his heir and not his Itachi. It was as if his eyes were automatically aging me to manhood, disciplining me to power so that I might lead in his stead one day. He knew I had engaged the Sharingan dojutsu for the first time, when I was watching the battle from the mountainside. Shisui had seen it, and told him. And now I was not a child in his eyes. It was that genius that he saw. His prodigy.
I, too changed in that moment. I thought, 'Chichi-ue, I promise to become powerful.'
And I stopped asking why.
END OF CHAPTER 1
Yamisui: Well. This is quite a departure from my usual style. Quite a bit more cerebral. Hope you're all still awake. Because it only gets more and more disturbing from here.
As an interesting side-note, Einstein didn't learn to speak until he was three . . . and he gave us the physics that eventually led to the development of the atomic bomb.