A father may turn his back on his child; brothers and sisters may become inveterate enemies; husbands may desert their wives and wives their husbands. But a mother's love endures through all; in good repute, in bad repute, in the face of the world's condemnation, a mother still loves on, and still hopes that her child may turn from his evil ways, and repent; still she remembers the infant smiles that once filled her bosom with rapture, the merry laugh, the joyful shout of his childhood, the opening promise of his youth; and she can never be brought to think him all unworthy.
- Washington Irving

o

Maternus

o

"Itachi should be getting home soon…" she murmured absently, then raised her head above the open refrigerator door. "Do you want anything special for dinner?"

There was no answer.

"We'll have leftovers then, Mikoto decided, returning to the refrigerator with a small sigh.

"What was that?" Fugaku asked from the next room, his words accompanied by the soft rustle of papers. Mikoto sighed again. He hadn't even heard her.

"Nothing," she called back. He was going over those reports again; it was something he did that she never quite understood. He went over them all too, both the good and the bad, the failures and the successes. Fugake never referred to them as failures though. He called them unsolved cases, but Mikoto knew they would never be solved. New things always came up, new cases, and the old ones were pushed to the back of the filing cabinet to be looked over only when Fugaku pulled everything out.

Somewhere in that mess of papers, Mikoto thought sadly, was Shisui's case.

They had dragged Itachi off for hours after that, hours of interrogation and questioning in that old police station. Mikoto had sat on the couch, legs curled neatly beneath her, staring into her tea with rumors of shinobi interrogation flitting through her head. They refused to be assuaged until she saw her eldest son safe at home again, and they were the most horrible things… (screws, knives, serrated edges, shining cutting twisting tearing)

Blood, and the screams of her eldest son.

She didn't understand how Fugaku could remain so calm. Wasn't he worried?

They accused Itachi of killing him, and she knew that if they believed it (she didn't) chances were slim she would see her son again. When he'd come through the door unharmed she'd burst into tears. She'd been so relieved… When her tears were under control again, she'd asked him what they'd decided, but Itachi had half-shrugged in that way he had, giving her no way to tell what he thought.

"They declared it a suicide."

Was it? a part of her wanted to ask, but she'd kept silent as he'd gone upstairs, pausing to exchange formal nods with Fugaku. Her husband hadn't said a word the entire time Itachi had been gone. When she'd asked him what he thought of it all, she hadn't received much better an answer -only an evasive statement about justice and retribution.

And now he was dragging it out again with those reports.

Mikoto sighed, scraping last might's dinner into a pot for reheating. What did she care if he looked through old reports - it was his business, not hers. She should simply concentrate on getting dinner ready.

Once everything was heating up on the stove, she lifted her cup from the counter (the one with doves and roses) pressing her softly painted lips to the rim. It was pleasantly warm now, as opposed to the scalding hot it had been when she'd set it down, and she closed her eyes to inhale it's aroma. She could feel her body relax against the counter, her thoughts calming themselves, any anxiety or worried emotions melting away in curls of mint-scented steam.

"Mother?"

Her eyes snapped open to find Itachi standing in the doorway, eyes on her. "Hm? Oh, you're home, what is it?"

A moment's silence, then, "Nothing," and his footsteps retreated upstairs.

Shaken from her reverie by Itachi's arrival, Mikoto turned back to the stove to find that most of the food was sufficiently heated. After she'd turned off the heat she poked her head into the living room where Fugaku sat, papers in a neat pile in his lap. "Dinner will be ready in a few minutes," she reported, and when he nodded slowly she returned to the kitchen, pulling out plates and glasses to lay out on the table. She did so carefully, knowing Fugaku liked things to be neat and tidy.

Fugaku liked a lot of things. He liked the house to be clean when he came home, he liked not discussing things with her -like the raising of their children- and he liked things his way. He dealt with Itachi and Sasuke the way he felt they should be dealt with, accepting her input silently and then casting it aside.

Dishes and food out, Mikoto went to each of the boy's rooms, informing them it was time to eat. Itachi promptly lay down the book he was reading, but she had to tell Sasuke more than once to make sure he heard her, whereupon he leaped up and scurried off to the bathroom to wash his hands.

Itachi and Fugaku were already seated when she returned to the table, waiting with a stiff sort of silence between them. She sat down, and Fugaku glanced toward the door expectantly. "Where is Sasuke?" he asked, voice already tinted with disapproval at his youngest son.

"He's washing his hands," Mikoto replied, looking toward the ceiling. The sound of running water filtered from above, but she didn't point it out. If she did, it would open a whole box of implications, possible insults, and questions. Not here at the table, but later, when Sasuke was asleep and Itachi secluded in his room for the night.

The water shut off, Mikoto heard footsteps rushing down the stairs -she bit her lip to keep from calling 'slow down'- and Sasuke stopped in the doorway, his hurry to get to the table suddenly extinguished.

"Come sit down Sasuke," Fugaku said, and he ducked his head as he came to his chair, an embarrassed tint to his cheeks. Once he was sitting there was a moment of silence, then Fugaku picked up his chopsticks and everyone else followed suit.

Dinner was a quiet affair, as it normally was, few if any words passing between them. Quiet implied calm however, so perhaps it was the wrong word to use. The table was blanketed in a sort of strained silence, everyone concentrating on eating, not on striking up conversation. Mikoto herself ate slowly, carefully chewing each small bite of tasteless meat, her eyes on the table to avoid meeting Fugaku's.

He probably wanted to get back to those reports.

"May I be excused?" Despite it's quiet, unobtrusive tone, Itachi's voice still managed to startle her, and she looked up to see his plate already cleaned. His words were not directed at anyone in particular, but Mikoto ket her silence, knowing Fugaku wouldn't like it if she answered. Her husband nodded, a brief movement she barely caught.

Itachi then rose, depositing his plate in the sink to be washed, and left, silent as a phantom.

"May I be excused please?" Sasuke asked a short while later. Unlike Itachi, his words were directed shyly toward his father.

"Finish eating," Fugaku replied shortly.Sasuke's plate was still halfway full of food -he had been picking at it all through dinner, clearly not hungry, but he obediently picked up his chopsticks.

Not long after Fugaku placed his dishes in the sink and returned to the living room, Mikoto rose also. As she moved toward the sink however, she paused behind Sasuke, reaching around him to pick up his mostly-full plate. She silently rinsed both his and her own, then Itachi's and Fugaku's as well, adding a bit of soap to the warm water flowing from the faucet.

Sasuke was staring at her when she glance back toward the table, and she smiled when she saw he was still holding his chopsticks, as if waiting for her to return his plate.

"Go on," she told him, removing one hand from the water to indicate the kitchen doorway. "I know you're not hungry."

He smiled and ran to her, wrapping his arms around her as best he could, cheek pressing into her back in a quick hug. His arms couldn't quite clasp around her, but she turned an knelt, gently returning the embrace.

"Thank you Mommy."

"You're welcome… Now go play," she told him softly, and he hurried off into the living room, up the stairs and, not to his own room she knew, but to Itachi's.

Maybe it was a bit unhealthy forSasuke to be so attached to him -when he was following after Itachi he never saw anyone but his older brother. He didn't interact with many kids his own age much at all (nor did Itachi actually) but Mikoto wasn't worried about it yet. When he was older he would join a genin team, and develop bonds there, with children of his own age level and maturity. At twelve -a year younger than Itachi now.

She couldn't help but shiver a bit when she thought how far her eldest son had come in his mere thirteen years, but it was alright. He was simply skilled -genius Fugaku liked say. Sasuke might not possess that genius to the extent Itachi did, but he was a good child, carefree and innocent.

Fugaku didn't see much of that however. He didn't see the carefree, innocent child who should be loved, cared for and protected. He only saw his younger son, who was not so much a genius as his older one.

"Sasuke," she heard Fugaku call, and his footsteps stopped. She paused too, the suds she'd returned to washing easily away with the inactivity. "Did you finish eating?"

"Y-yes Father," came Sasuke's answer, but Mikoto did not release her breath. There was a long moment of silence, then Sasuke's footsteps resumed, and the paper rustled in the living room where Fugaku might -even now- be going over Shisui's case.

The last of the soap suds fell away under the warm water, but because Fugaku liked things neat and tidy, she retrieved the teacup she'd never drank from and washed that too.

o

finire