AN: I'm really sorry about the amount of time it has taken me to actually write this chapter – I had about a page and a half written, when I decided that I was fundamentally unhappy with what I was writing – it was all highly laboured and stylistically self-indulgent. However, I found myself unable to rewrite it, as I had totally lost all inspiration for the story, and most of my interest in the Naruto fandom as a whole. So this story sat and moulded in my laptop until I recently began to regain something resembling an interest in Naruto, not to mention inspiration for how I wanted this story to develop.
It was not a question and Itachi did not dare raise his head. There was no answer he could give that would appease his father. All he could do was wait and be penitent while the man's anger burnt itself out. So he knelt, head bowed, eyes fixed on the tatami, while the older man paced and dripped an acidic trail of curses about his uselessness. His eight year old body ached from the fight, a long slow burn as the adrenaline faded, leaving the permanent ache from pushing his young body too far too fast. He could feel the bruises spreading already and hoped that his lecture would not last too long – he wanted nothing more than to retreat to his room for a long bath, perhaps stopping to see his brother beforehand. Fugaku wouldn't have taken Sasuke to see the finals – privileges such as that were of course not allowed for the second son, who showed none of the promise that Itachi himself apparently did. Except of course, he had now failed. The shame burnt hot behind his eyes. He forced his attention back to his father's ranting, knowing despite himself that he must listen, his failure was enough of an insult without compounding it by being disrespectful,
"…years of training, and for what? For you to be beaten by some family-less upstart with no bloodline, not even born in the village, so who knows what kind of trash…"
Itachi closed his eyes again, resisting the urge to sigh – his father's bitterness was becoming and increasingly ugly thing to behold. Then he registered that Fugaku now wanted him to account for his 'wrongdoing' and he raised his head slightly,
"Don't look at me like some idiot boy. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"It was a fair fight. Hokage-sama said that the promotions would be decided by analysing who had displayed the greatest level of abilities and tactics appropriate to chuunin rank, not simply who won the tournament."
For a brief moment, Itachi wondered if his father was going to actually explode, fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, he did not,
"And you think it is acceptable to attain a mediocre transition to chuunin rank?"
There was a hollowness in Itachi's chest – he had made it to the final battle, defeating all his opponents but the last, and this was mediocrity, when almost everyone else there was nearly twice his age?
"That's not right, Fugaku-san. There's no way becoming a chuunin at eight could ever be mediocre."
Itachi's head jerked up; they were his thoughts, his words, but that was not his voice. He twisted around to face where the voice was coming from and stared at the figure standing at the entrance to the dojo. The other boy grinned at him, his forehead protector pushing his bangs haphazardly around his face, while he was practically swamped in the green chuunin vest he wore. If Fugaku had been angry before, he was positively apoplectic now,
"How dare you walk in here and…?"
"Sandaime-sama wants to see him – you dragged him out of there before they could conclude the promotion decisions; or even before he could see a medic, by the looks of things. C'mon, we've got to go see him to get our first orders, then we'll try and fail to find another chuunin vest that's in our size."
Sketching a brief nod to the spluttering clan head, Hideaki grabbed Itachi's arm and dragged him up, out of the dojo, and down the street at a headlong dash. Finally, they came to a stop in the doorway of an empty shop, Hideaki laughing while Itachi stared at him in astonishment. The younger boy grinned like a madman as he shoved an identical green vest into Itachi's arms. Itachi gaped,
"But, I thought you said…"
"Geez, I picked one up for you while I was getting mine – figured we'd be about the same size. Now, let's find your brother and Naru-bozo and go for ice cream. Hokage-sama doesn't want to see us till tomorrow morning."
And the boy dashed off again, still laughing. Itachi stood stunned for a moment, chuunin vest heavy in his arms. Then he pulled the whole contraption on, feeling a smile twisting at his lips and took off after the other boy, aware all the while of something un-knotting happily behind his ribs.
Itachi woke alone in an unfamiliar bed. But the side of mattress next to where he lay was still warm and he could hear the low tuneless humming from the next room that told him where Hideaki was. So he reluctantly rose and went to the bathroom attached to their room, hoping that these wizards would at least have showers.
Fortunately enough they did indeed have showers, though the bathtub looked far more interesting, if something that he wanted to explore the full potential of with Hideaki's 'assistance'. He made a mental note to do so later. But while the shower lacked the opulence of the tub, it was fully serviceable and, more importantly, the water was hot enough to scald his skin. He was almost tempted to linger under the spray, but Naruto and Sasuke were in a separate room, and who knew what kind of trouble they would be racing to see who could drag the other into more of. Besides, his dream(memory) had disturbed him and he had the strong desire to immerse himself in Hideaki's company. Unfortunately, the shower was not quite big enough for this, and their explorations of the bath would have to wait for a more suitable moment. So he reluctantly turned off the faucet and began to dress.
He emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, towelling his hair dry and wondering where he was supposed to plug in his hair-dryer, only to discover that his lover was seemingly involved in a deep and meaningful conversation with his mirror. Further observation showed that Hideaki was in fact arguing with the mirror,
"-no dear, you mustn't wear that horrible thing. It's really quite outlandish and it does horrible things to your beautiful hair."
Hideaki frowned at the mirror and donned his hitae-ate nonetheless,
"It is the symbol of my village and an honour to bear it."
The mirror seemed to shrug that off, as much as a mirror was capable of doing so,
"That's nice dear, but it simply isn't appropriate for a wizard."
Itachi felt more than a little bemused,
"You seem to be arguing with the mirror."
(and the prize for stating the bleeding obvious went to…)
Hideaki flushed and turned to him, ignoring the mirror's last complaints and firmly fastening the cloth of his hitae-ate nonetheless,
"It seems there will be a lot of facets of this world that will take more than a little getting used to."
Itachi felt himself frowning,
"If you do not truly wish to be here…"
Hideaki shook his head slightly, but his expression was uncertain, almost pained,
"It is not a question of desire – it is right for me to learn about my heritage in this world, and it was otousama's wish for me to do so, but, I feel uncertain as to how much they will attempt to suppress my true heritage as a shinobi…"
Itachi felt his frown deepening (he always felt comfortable frowning, in comparison to most other facial expressions he was expected to show, this one at least was one he had been encouraged in as a noble scion of the Uchiha house – frowning apparently was not deemed to always be a sign of weakness). Still, this last comment raised in him other concerns,
"Dumbledore-san did not seem terribly pleased with what he saw."
Hideaki sat down upon the bed, his expression dark,
"I expect that when Dumbledore left me upon that doorstep all those years ago, he did so with the intention of my receiving a very different upbringing to the one that I did. I have no doubt that my life as a shinobi of Konoha has upset many of the plans he had had for me."
Itachi felt that frowning at this moment was not a sufficient expression of his emotions, he started scowling instead,
"You think he means to use you?"
Hideaki's face twisted itself into a smirking rictus,
"I hardly think that he travels to the hidden countries to retrieve every student who goes missing. I do not doubt that he hoped to find in me a malleable tool for his purposes, whatever they may be, and that finding me to be anything but, he may be pushed into unwise actions."
This was serious,
"You think he intends to interfere with our loyalties to the village?"
His lover's face was bland, expressionless and utterly controlled, showing to anyone who knew him the Hideaki was unsettled,
"I would be highly surprised if he did not. No. I think his first move will be to attempt to control those members of this society whom I meet, and thus make me enamoured with it. Then he will suggest that I stay here during Yule, and ultimately not return to the village."
Itachi raised an eyebrow incredulously,
"Dumbledore-san obviously knows little about Shinobi."
A smirk insinuated itself, snakelike, across Hideaki's face, and when he spoke there was a note of pleasure in his voice,
"He thinks that because I am shinobi, my loyalties are easily bought and transferred from one to another. He does not understand to the way of the ninja is one of total loyalty, beyond all other concerns, to the village and the Hokage. I am almost looking forward to his attempts to manipulate me."
If Itachi had been a sympathetic individual, he might almost have felt sorry for the Professor. As it was, no such sympathy was aroused in him, and the moment passed on quickly. Then Hideaki groaned slightly,
"Speaking of such sorry attempts at manipulation, Dumbledore said that he would arrange for a family to guide us round while we do our shopping – something about my having some inheritance of some kind."
Another cocked eyebrow,
"I thought you were not concerned about such amateurish attempts at manipulation?"
Hideaki shook his head,
"Dumbledore's plottings are the least of my concerns. No, it's just, Naruto. Sasuke. Shopping. With other people around."
Itachi felt himself pale slightly,
"I see your point – that could definitely pose a problem."
I'm sorry this is so short, and that it's taken so long, but really this is all I could get written at all, without feeling like it's forced and unnatural. However, I do now have a definite plan for how the next chapter is going to go, and it will, I hope, be up sometime within the next month or so, though am making no promises.