Disclaimer: I (obviously) don't own Naruto.

A/N: A short story I've had sitting around for a while. I decided to post it...just because I can.

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It was a trap all along.

They all looked at him, and humored him. This was mere formality. Their group could handle one ceremonial jonin. Because the boy in front of them couldn't possibly have passed the exam all by himself, without any assistance to compensate for his shorter legs, his tiny body, his unbroken tenor voice. No, he was there because he was the Uchiha prodigy, the youngest member to ever get the Sharingan, and the youngest person ever to graduate from the Ninja Academy.

Even if he was that talented, he had nowhere near the experience that they did. So, they accepted him into their squad without argument. The three had been friends forever; all three of them gave the boy sideways glances and the easiest parts of each mission.

He knew it was too quiet.

He ignored their lack of faith in him, and their knowing smiles to each other. They didn't think he understood. And maybe he didn't. He didn't want to anymore. It had been fun, throwing kunai with Father. It had been fun when he beat him every time. It had been fun, going to school with the big kids and beating them at each exercise. Even when the older kids made fun of him and pushed him around in the hallways, it was still okay. They never pushed too hard—he might come after them. Even the chunin exam was fun—he got put in a group of even older kids, and then he got to defeat them all one by one in the tournament. The lords and jonin watching unanimously promoted him to chunin.

Gradually, though, being the best lost its luster. Father didn't laugh at him and challenge him to another round. The big kids at the academy got tired of teasing him and ignored him. The lords and jonin weren't impressed when they promoted him to chunin. It wasn't anything new anymore—he was simply better than everyone, all of the time. Nothing was difficult for him. Jutsu came as naturally to him as breathing. His young body was lithe and flexible. Battle strategy was just an innate sense he'd had the fortune of being born with.

Now as a jonin and a member of the ANBU, there was no fun anymore. Every day he came home was another chance for his father to frown and remind him to try a little harder tomorrow.

Something was definitely wrong.

Their first mission was a tracking mission. A criminal from Sand had escaped and had been sighted in a nearby forest. The four ANBU put their masks on and set out. The criminal was alone and had no known accomplices.

They told him to let them know if he saw anything. They'd take care of it, He wasn't to get involved.

They picked up a trail.

His senses picked up on something he couldn't consciously identify. He studied them, but with their masks, he couldn't tell if they felt it too.

It didn't need to happen like that.

He didn't say anything. They didn't want his help anyway. It would be very embarrassing if a twelve-year-old had to remind them to pay attention. All of the cold looks they'd given him—it wasn't his fault.

The forest was silent. One of them tensed up, and motioned to the others. Apparently he wanted to investigate over there. And he wanted them with him.

This was it. His first mission as an ANBU. Mother had tried to reassure him, and tell him he'd do just fine. Father told him if he panicked on something as simple as an ANBU operation, he should just stay home and resign from the ANBU, regardless of the fact he'd scored ridiculously high on the psychological test.

He started to dash after them. The woman held out her arm, barring his way. She shook her head, and motioned him to stay back. He signed back fluidly, the coded sign-language of the ANBU dancing from his short fingers. She shook her head again, but motioned to her side. He was supposed to stay behind her.

He doesn't know why he didn't say something then.

The instant he caught up with the group, he knew his instincts had been correct. It was a trap. Why hadn't they realized it?

It happened so fast, only his Sharingan could keep up. Two launched out from the foliage, and three came from the treetops. Somewhere in the whirling mix was the criminal they were supposed to catch. The captain was the first to fall—he was the one who'd told Itachi that the ANBU wasn't like being a simple jonin. His head slid cleanly off his shoulders, and his body fell without a fight. The woman let out a cry and lashed out, only to have a long katana thrust through her chest. She too fell without struggle, her limp fingers just brushing the bloody hair of her lover.

He never saw what happened to his last teammate, because he was attacked. Instantly, without thought or conscious decision, he spun around and slashed at an attacker, who buckled and fell from the fatal wound. Two attacked at once—he leapt up and took them both out with expertly thrown kunai. His father was not there to grimace.

When the last ambusher—the wanted criminal—attacked in a mad rush, Itachi had to grip his katana carefully, because his hands or the hilt was so soaked with blood. He didn't know which it was. When the criminal fell, he fell with him, the katana embedded too deeply to pull out easily.

Distantly he removed the katana, and wiped it clean on his vest. The blood only smeared. His white porcelain mask, so carefully carved and painted, lay dirtied and broken on the ground. He'd torn it off to see properly.

For a while he stood in the group of bodies, staring up at the clouds and feeling the blood on his face dry. None of it was his.

Calmly he picked his mask up, and removed the masks of his fallen companions.

It was their fault for not realizing it.

The next morning, when he returned as the sole survivor of the ambush, it was regarded as a miracle. How else could a twelve-year-old boy have survived an attack from three S-rank criminals and two A-rank? He never told them. A year later, his survival proved not to be a fluke, and he was promoted to ANBU captain. He never led any of his team into an ambush.

A man cloaked in black and red clouds visited him. There was a place where his talent was accepted. It wasn't undermined or overlooked. It wasn't taken for granted.

His father told him not to get haughty—there were still better ninja than he.

No better ninja stood before him to stop him from killing his father.

He never wanted to be a boy all alone in a battle again.

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A/N: My speculation as to the reasons Itachi snapped. Review, if you will. Please?