I do not own Naruto. It all belongs to the respective creators and/or publishers par the story below.
Uchiha Fugaku knows that his younger son is afraid of thunderstorms.
Because even though he's still and quiet, Sasuke's nervous glances and clenched fists are enough to tell him of that. For a moment, Fugaku entertains the idea of comforting the child; but it is a thought that he quickly discards. There is no point of coddling a child, he has to grow strong enough to support his brother as clan head, and that is what Uchiha Fugaku knows and what should be done.
So as the rain pours down behind them and Sasuke is afraid, Fugaku does not adjourn the meeting with his sons.
At that thought, Fugaku looks at his older son; Itachi is sitting straight, eyes meeting his own in a clear gaze, and his concentration is purely on the people in the room.
Why couldn't Sasuke be like that? Fugaku wonders, and he frowns a bit. The lines are deep on his face, and he clears his throat before speaking again.
"As I was saying," he pauses for the full effect to settle in, "I will be approving your ascension into the ANBU." Fugaku's voice is proud, and he watches both of his kin's reactions. "It will be announced next week, during the meeting."
Itachi, Fugaku notices, glances not at him, but at Sasuke, before nodding once.
Sasuke isn't reacting—at least, not to the statement given. Instead, his eyes widen to a drastic rate as a particularly loud boom erupts from behind him. He flinches, and immediately after doing so, bites his lip and looks down.
It isn't something a good nin would do, being afraid of thunder, and Fugaku wonders if he should scold Sasuke or not…
But it doesn't really matter, because before he can do anything, the choice is out of his hands, and Itachi is standing.
The teen bows his head and takes Sasuke by the hand, leading him out of the now dark room. And Sasuke, still scared as he is, accepts that hand and walks out of the room with his brother, out into the hall that is exposed to the night air. Fugaku can see that his arm is still trembling, but Itachi leads him firmly.
They walk out, elegantly framed by a flash of lightening and with a start, the older man is reminded of how close they are—so much closer than they should be. Itachi is a teenager; aren't teenagers supposed to be sick of their siblings? But, as Fugaku watches them pass through the hall, he sees and he knows and he wonders if Itachi knows too.
Then, Fugaku wonders if Itachi realizes that he took the side to the rain.
The way they are walking is odd, whether it is because of their height difference or hand difference or that Sasuke is trembling. But Itachi doesn't mind so much and instead lets him tremble, because at the very least he isn't whining and is trying and that is all that Itachi can really ask for.
But, still, this quiet Sasuke is a painful thing to watch.
"Sasuke." Itachi breathes, waiting to see if the boy will react.
Sasuke does—a whip of the head and glimpses of large, surprised eyes, "Y-yes, aniki?"
"You are not…" How to describe this, he wonders, "…breathing right." Immediately after speaking, Itachi knows that that was wrong. But regardless, he doesn't fumble, or look to repeat himself.
Sasuke, on the other hand, does. "My…breathing…? What's wrong with it?" He places small fingers where he estimates the lungs would be, and then touches his throat, and has no idea what Itachi is talking about. "Is it bad?"
"Yes." Itachi says without a thought, and then fixes, "It does not sound natural."
Then Sasuke blinks and is quiet and listens to his breathing for a moment. "It doesn't sound odd to me."
Itachi frowns. "No. It is off." Then, to make his point, he stops walking and leans down, pressing his ear to the child's back.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
"Aniki!" Sasuke cries, and attempts to shove him away. "Stop it!"
Itachi obligingly releases him.
Then Sasuke turns. "Why'd you do that!"
"Your breathing was odd."
"It sounded off, as I've said. You may be coming down with a cold."
Itachi sighs. "You may be—I don't know yet. Go to bed early, Sasuke. If you get sick you won't be able to see me off tomorrow."
Sasuke pouts, and tugs on his brother's hand impatiently. "Do you promise you won't leave while I'm asleep?"
Fugaku watches as Itachi prepares for his next mission, and vaguely wonders why Sasuke isn't here.
Normally the child would be crowding the room, watching them with bright eyes.
But he isn't here, and Fugaku isn't sure why, but right now Itachi is more important. He does, however, mentally remind himself that Sasuke is already old enough to take care of himself and hadn't Itachi already become a nin at that age? So instead he frowns, and watches Itachi until the male is ready, and leads him outside.
Itachi leaves, but Fugaku notices that he, too, looks for the bubbly child before departing for his mission. But he leaves nonetheless, and Fugaku is satisfied.
It isn't until Sasuke misses dinner that Fugaku thinks on the subject again.
By that time, Mikoto has commented on it, and Fugaku isn't sure what to make of it. His first thought is that Sasuke is out training—which he dismisses as he looks at the dark skies that have crept upon them. It will rain, and Sasuke knows better than to get stuck outside of the house when it rains.
Still, he stands, and leaves the room, whether it be to confront or talk to his younger son; Fugaku does not speak to anyone on the way, and only the sound of his footsteps grace the hallway.
He comes to the small room he had assigned Sasuke, and when he knocks on the door, a muffled voice replies.
Fugaku frowns, and slides open the door. "Sasuke."
The small child is sitting up in bed, his hair messier than usual and a bright flush adorning his cheeks. He's smiling, though, not the reserved smiles that Fugaku is always given, but a bright, wide smile that—
Can only be reserved for Itachi.
"You didn't leave wit'out me!" Sasuke exclaims, happy and smiling and—
He thinks I'm Itachi, Fugaku thinks, and wonders whether or not he should use this. "No." He finally answers, "But you missed dinner."
Sasuke pouts. "Nuh-uh! I was sleeping. 'Cause my head feels icky and my tummy hurts."
"Do you have a fever?" Fugaku asks. A fever was the sign of a weak body; he wondered how Sasuke would respond to the question. Surely, if Sasuke had been in the correct frame of mind he would have denied it to him, but… How would he respond to Itachi?
"Uh-huh." A single admission, more quiet than not, but truth nonetheless.
Fugaku reaches over and places his hand against Sasuke's forehead. He's definitely running a fever, he realizes with a start, and gently pushes Sasuke down onto the futon, drawing the covers up around the child. "I will have Mikoto bring something."
He realizes his mistake as Sasuke's eyebrows bunch and he asks, "D'you call Mother Mikoto now, aniki?"
And Fugaku frowns some more, but nonetheless leaves. Mikoto will take over from here—it is not his job to pamper children.
He cannot help, however, the quiet reflection that comes upon him later; at that time, Fugaku wonders what it would have been like if it had been Sasuke that was a genius, but eventually dismisses the idea.
Itachi is back before long, on a mission with standards less than his own. He arrives, but is not met with any sort of welcome—it is the dead of night, and most of the nin are asleep.
But before he leaves, Itachi cannot help but glance into the room that he knows so well, and is met with a sleeping Sasuke.
And it twinges inside, just a little bit, to see him so carefree and happy and that he is not waiting for him. But that feeling soon passes as he notes that Sasuke's breathing is labored, and that he is not restful but restless.
So Itachi reaches over and smoothes the hair on Sasuke's brow, wiping away sweat, and leaves the room.
He returns later with a bundle of towels in hand, and dressed in clean clothes. Then, he slips onto the other side of Sasuke, pulling the fevered child's head into his lap, and begins a long night of watching.
Fugaku awakens as he hears the quiet tiptaptiptap he associates with Itachi, but remains still as the younger nin walks back and forth, doing something.
When the sound stops, and Itachi's chakra defines that he is in Sasuke's room, Fugaku knows that he's realized what going on, and turns over.
He doesn't get any sleep.
And in the morning, Fugaku gets out of bed and gently slides open the door to Sasuke's room. He knows that the sound would be enough to wake Itachi up. But he opens it.
Inside, there are a pile of towels, neatly stacked on the floor but all used; inside, the window is shut and the morning light is filtered into the room; inside, Itachi is staring at him with red eyes; inside, the Sasuke is dead asleep, supported by Itachi's prone arms.
Go away, Itachi's eyes are saying, and Fugaku, for the first time, defers to his son.
- And it hurts more than it should. -
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