Disclaimer: I don't own any part of Naruto, nor do I own any rights to the novel "L'étranger", written by Albert Camus.
Author's Notes: I was trying to think of a title for this and then I remembered "L'étranger", which a high school French teacher of mine claims is the most well-known of all the French novels (according to her, everybody in France knows the first line of the book). Whether or not that's true, I think it fits well with the story and the first line fits rather nicely, too. I wanted to try writing about someone else in the fandom this time, mostly because I've already abused the ones I usually write about so much. This is all interpretation of course, since virtually nothing's known about Mikoto. Actually, not much is known about any of the characters' mothers. On my "mother's tour" I might write about Kushina next.
Anywho, comments are greatly appreciated!
Her sons don't know the story because it's one she's never told. Children never stop to question their pasts, the things from whence they came. Everybody in the clan was family; everybody in the clan was expected to behave as an Uchiha should. These facts are given, never to be disputed. And while these expectations are as natural to them as breathing, with the Sharingan in their blood, what they cannot appreciate is that their mother has learned to become part of them. They never stop to question the fact that their mother wasn't born an Uchiha.
Before she knew how to use a kitchen knife, Mikoto knew how to use a katana. She remembered the almost weightless feeling of the balanced blade, a surreal dream. How the metal would flash when she unsheathed it to the sound of ringing. The adrenaline coursing, her muscles taunt, heart pumping and breathing ragged. She remembered what it felt like to kill. She wasn't skilled enough to be admitted to the ANBU but she had done enough to build herself a reputation as a top kunoichi, fluent in stealth. Her missions involved silence and blood and fear.
She had still been young then, in those days of simplicity. Her parents fretted that she was squandering her youth, courting death. How will you ever settle down, they asked, when will you ever start a family? She had smiled indulgently and refused to listen, believing that as civilians they could never understand. She focused only on her work. Then there had been one day, during a particularly long mission, that one of her targets had managed to slip by her team. She had quickly gone in pursuit, following the man's haphazard path toward the town gate. If he managed to reach the border, their jurisdiction would be over; the mission would be a failure. Her anger welled. The man turned a corner quickly and she thought for a moment that she had lost him when she heard a scream.
By the time she arrived the target had been subdued, lying unconscious by another man's feet. She looked up into this stranger's eyes, dark as the night, at his russet hair and stern face. His eyes scanned her, showing no recognition. The moment passed and he left without a word. She had no time to waste going after him to thank him. She picked up the comatose shinobi and returned to her team.
When she went to see her parents a few days later, she found them in a state of uproar.
"Mikoto, child," her father pulled her close, kissing her hair. "There is someone here, asking for your hand in marriage."
She had pulled away from him, smiling. "Father, it's unkind of you to joke this way."
He laughed at her softly, as one does to a child who couldn't understand why the sky was blue. "If you don't believe me, why not talk to him yourself?"
"You mean he's here now?" Mikoto frowned, baffled. It was unlike her father to take a bluff this far. And if he was indeed telling the truth she was even more confused. What man could be here asking to marry her? The only people she ever saw these days were her teammates.
"In the garden," he said, ushering her out. "And so you know, I've already given him my permission."
"You've already—but father, I don't even know who he is!"
"Are you playing coy, child? Uchiha Fugaku has been waiting for you a good long while, and it would be extremely rude for you not to talk to him."
He hadn't given her a chance to say that she'd never met Uchiha Fugaku and shut her outside. She'd heard the name, of course. Everybody in the village knew who the Uchihas were. What she couldn't understand was how he knew her.
The wooden planks of the veranda were cold under her feet as she made her way to the back of the house. There was indeed a man there whose silhouette she thought familiar. When he turned to face her, things fell into place.
"Uchiha-san." She tested out his name on her tongue as he held out a hand to lead her down the steps. He waved off her formality and they sat down together by the pond. By the time the afternoon was over, she was engaged.
"You must wait for the most fortuitous day," the old fortune teller had said. "If not, your union will be a disaster and cause nothing but ruin for both your families."
And so they had submitted the birthdays of all their relatives and wedding guests, and the old woman referenced and cross referenced them on her obscure sheets of tables and charts. Occasionally she would let out a hiss or a sigh of displeasure, clucking her tongue in disapproval.
"No, no, no, most unlucky. You mustn't marry on that day." Again and again they submitted dates for consent, only to be denied. Finally the crone picked a date; the day itself was more than six years away. Mikoto looked at her future husband, who respectfully asked the diviner for the least unlucky day within the next few years. Shaking her head in reprimand, she chose a day some seven months off. Fugaku thanked her and paid her the dues. It would be years later when he would tell her that he wasn't superstitious, but that his family's tradition had been to consult the same woman for the past three generations. As the next leader, he couldn't very well ignore the old ways.
"Mikoto, you're so lucky!" her sister had sighed dreamily. "He's so handsome and well-respected, and they say he's brilliant. He's one of the youngest leaders of the Uchiha clan!"
She had seen those things, of course, which was why she had agreed to marry him. There hadn't been much love at that time; simply a deep respect and understanding, an affection for mutual companionship. She didn't know what he saw in her, but his strength and kindness had been enough. On their wedding night he had held her so tenderly that she began to comprehend his love.
Life didn't change dramatically immediately after her wedding. She continued on with her regular duties. She moved into her husband's house, a mansion of proportions of which she was unaccustomed. And there were all the names to learn, every person in the clan who lived in the compound. Mikoto had never been surrounded by so much life. Sometimes it was disconcerting for her, to return from killing to be greeted by the laughter of a child. Fugaku always sensed her disquiet on these evenings, and would sit with her until the candle had extinguished itself in a pool of wax. Her husband grew increasingly gaunt after officially assuming his duties as clan leader. For a while she thought her increased exhaustion was just transferred from him.
She returned from a mission late one night, more drained than usual. She knew Fugaku was still awake by the light flickering in their room. Her feet felt clumsy. She stumbled her way to their door and promptly fainted in front of it.
They learned from the doctor that she would be fine, but that she had had a miscarriage. None of them had known she was pregnant. In the days of rest following her incident she could hear the whispers all around the house. She knew the clan was nervous about Fugaku producing an heir; he was no longer a young man and it was important that the bloodline continued.
"Mikoto," he drew her hands into his as he sat down by her bedside, and she knew what he was there to say.
"I'm sorry, Fugaku," she said quietly. "I know how much you want a child."
"There's still time," he replied. "But you need to take better care of yourself."
They had come to the heart of the matter at last. "What are you implying?"
"Mikoto… it might be best if you didn't continue working. You're putting so much strain on yourself and if this were to happen again…"
He stopped, but she knew the rest.You may never be able to have children. For the first time in their marriage his eyes implored her.
"What else would I do, Fugaku?"
Her words were nothing more than a whisper, but they had been enough. He had asked, and she had denied. He would never force her against her will. Fugaku kissed her affectionately on the cheek and excused himself to finish some paperwork.
Not long after, a letter was sent to the Uchiha residence, addressed to Mikoto. When the postman handed her the letter she was surprised; she was unaccustomed to receiving mail, and no one had sent her letters to this house. Her family was too close by to write letters, so she couldn't imagine who had sent it.
When Fugaku returned home he found her sitting on the porch, eyes puffy and face pale, cradling a sheet of paper in the fading daylight. He never asked her permission to read it; the contents appalled him.
"Do you know who sent this?" he asked her firmly, but she merely shook her head. Uchiha Mikoto, we have your family hostage. If you ever want to see them alive again, come to the abandoned training grounds tomorrow at midnight. Come alone. The name they used, her name, struck a chord with him. Your family, the letter said. But if Mikoto was an Uchiha now, they were the only family she had. He wanted her to realize that this wasn't her fault; they were trying to get to him.
"Get some rest," he said gently. "I'll handle it."
She looked up for the first time, and some of the life had returned to her eyes. "No. I'm going tomorrow."
"You certainly won't." His tone left no room for discussion; he had never forbidden her from doing anything before.
"They're my family!"
"So am I!"
Her eyes betrayed nothing as she studied his face, but he knew she would do as he'd said. Her anger he could deal with; he didn't know how he would manage her death.
Fugaku didn't go to bed that night, at least not in their room, and Mikoto kept herself locked up in the bedroom the entire day. He never came to visit. Again it was a time of whispers, seeping through the paper panels and through the cracks of the wood.
"The elders won't let him send anyone," someone whispered hurriedly. "They say it's a trap to get the Sharingan."
"Of course it's a trap," another voice said scornfully, and then lowered its tones. "But poor Mikoto, both her parents and her sister too…"
The voices continued, but she stopped listening. It felt as if the world were ending. She refused to eat or drink, and when night came she stared at the darkness outside mournfully. The sunset had been beautiful, and she was regretting that it would be the last one her family would ever see. She didn't know how long she lay there, staring at nothing. Soon all the voices disappeared and there was only the singing of crickets, the light of the moon. Fugaku never came. She kept her eyes open until exhaustion pulled them shut, and only opened them again in the morning.
It was still dark outside. A heavy storm had set in during the night, obscuring the sun. She heard vaguely the pitter-patter of raindrops on the shingles, the softer dripping down the eaves and onto wet dirt. Fugaku was sitting in the middle of the room, legs crossed and eyes closed. He had fallen asleep that way. On the floor in front of him lay a large, lumpy bag, bloody on the bottom.
He opened his eyes at the sound of her stirring, and beckoned her to him. She obeyed without sound. When she had settled herself cross-legged across from him he pulled open the knot tying the bundle together, pulling out three severed heads. He explained that he had gone to save her family last night, but that they were already dead by the time he arrived. These were the heads of the culprits, one life for each that was taken from her.
She fell in love with him then. She thanked him for his generosity and took her prizes outside. The rain was still falling harder than ever but she needed to do this. She pulled out the heads and tossed them into the air, one by one, burning them with a fire jutsu, fire that wouldn't be quenched by the unending rain. It felt appropriate to burn them. After all, fire was the heart of her clan.
Uchiha Mikoto resigned from active duty the next day; she would never be an active jounin ever again.
Soon after she discovered that she was pregnant. The entire clan celebrated, and she was treated to lavish gifts and the best food money could buy. Her days were free now that she no longer worked, and she strove to find ways to fill the hours. Mikoto had never been the wifely kind, so she dedicated herself to household chores that she was unaccustomed to. She worked for weeks on a dish before she thought it fit to serve to Fugaku, and was exalted when he praised it.
In the midst of this new life and happiness an unexplainable fear began to creep into her consciousness. What would happen if she suffered another miscarriage? What if the child were born deformed? During the day she could repel these thoughts by keeping her hands busy. But at night, when her husband was absent, up late with work, she would secretly harbour the thoughts she had previously displaced. Her greatest nightmare was that this child born of fear would disappoint her husband, bring down all the things they had worked so hard to build.
"It's a boy," someone said, and when the words reached her ears she could cry out of happiness. A son, finally, to fill Fugaku's dreams. It was the first time she remembered seeing him smile so widely, so publicly. She had accomplished something through sweat and tears and blood, like the old days. Fugaku kissed her fervently, fiercely. Save for Itachi, he didn't leave her side for days.
But her fears appeared to be unfounded as this son exceeded every expectation. His teachers raved about him; he was heralded a genius. She saw her husband's pride in this boy and thought that nothing could ruin their happiness. When she was told that another baby was on the way, the world seemed even more complete.
She had little difficulty at the birth of their second son. Fugaku named him Sasuke, after legend, and she couldn't contend with that. Two boys, both with their mother's complexion, her dark hair. But whereas Itachi's face held lines of seriousness akin to his father, Sasuke's features were less angular, gentle. His large dark eyes were the most endearing thing she'd ever seen.
Itachi had grown into an extremely independent young boy with no need for her. Her husband spent hours on end with him, talking to him, training him. She had begun to feel left out of their lives when Sasuke came along, a helpless little thing that needed her to be a mother. She relished in the drab house chores. She listened to his stories about school and people and he filled her life with meaning. This son, too, was turning out better than expected, although she knew he felt the strain of living up to his brother. She could see the fierce love and pride behind her younger son's eyes, talking about his nii-san.
But then came the days when Fugaku and Itachi had started to argue, and Sasuke was torn. Who did he give allegiance to? She didn't interfere in their affairs because it wasn't her place, but if Itachi was his father's son then Sasuke was hers. She wanted nothing more than to see him happy.
"Sasuke," she'd said to him one day, "don't worry about your father and your brother. Grown-ups fight sometimes – it's how they try to understand each other better. Once they've figured it out, they'll be on good terms again."
"But mom," he had furrowed his eyebrows in thought, "they looked like they were ready to kill each other." He paused, as if trying to find the words, but finally saying, "You wouldn't understand."
And the irony of the situation was like a slap in the face. Hadn't she thought the same thing of her parents, once? Her appeasement wasn't what he wanted; her pale love couldn't compare to the fire of Fugaku's or Itachi's. What he wanted was the love and acknowledgement of a respected shinobi, someone who had strength, someone who could challenge him, teach him. He was just a child and couldn't know how deeply his words had cut her. She smiled indulgently and set his dinner in front of him.
That night she pulled out her katana, carefully hidden away under the floorboards of their room. The weight felt foreign in her hand now, the movement sluggish instead of effortless. She tried not to think about the child in her belly, the one that no one else knew about. She could not face the possibility of a third son who would abandon her. When Fugaku unexpectedly opened the door she stopped in mid-stance, frozen by his stare. He didn't say a word as she sheathed her old weapon and returned it to its hiding place. Only when she had arranged everything to the way it was before did he walk into the room.
"Fugaku," she said, "I want to return to active duty." It was not the right time to tell him about another child; she could see from his face that he had just argued with their son. She would do what she needed to and tell him about this child when the time was right. There was no malice or anger in her voice, only a surety and confidence that had resurfaced.
Fugaku saw his wife, then, for what she was, and could not begrudge her for it. "Thank you for informing me," he said cordially. "Itachi was asking for you."
She hadn't entered her older son's room in years. How much a mix of us he is, she thought, looking into his lined face from the doorway. Since he had joined the ANBU she had seen so little of him that they were practically strangers. Perched on the edge of his bed, he beckoned her in.
"Mother," he said. "We haven't talked for quite some time. Have you been well?"
He made her nervous, this trophy child, the one she could never touch. "Fine, darling. There's no need to worry about me." She smiled to reassure both of them, not confident enough to sit beside him. "Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?"
"I just wanted to make sure you were in good health. After all, you're in a very delicate condition."
His allusion to her pregnancy startled her. No one else but the doctor knew; she had ordered secrecy on pain of death. "W-What do you mean, Itachi?"
For the briefest moment she thought she saw his eyes flash red and she glimpsed, quite clearly, the blueprint for their destruction.
"Please don't try to deceive me, mother. I'm sick of lies." He sighed then, and transformed into a boy again. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you."
"Oh, it wasn't any trouble," Mikoto said quickly, moving to embrace him. He wrapped his arms around her back and buried his face into her stomach while she patted his head like she did when he was a child. Itachi pressed his ear to her abdomen as if trying to seek out a heartbeat and she was so startled that she pushed him away.
"I have to see to Sasuke," she said quickly. "I'm glad we talked."
Her head was spinning as she left. All she could think was that Sasuke had been right; there was something dangerous lurking there. How could her husband not see it?
She heard the screams long before she knew what was going on. Fugaku pushed her inside, ordered the clan to surround the main house. Her husband's face in that brief moment told her everything. And so it ends, she thought. As it began, so it ends.
Fugaku stumbles back into the room at last, covered in blood and sweat. His eyes are frantic. They search her face, only the second time he has implored her, asking for forgiveness. He must have known from the start that things could turn out this way. He had just been too proud, too in love with his dream, to stop it. Itachi doesn't break down the door but slides it open politely, shutting it behind him as if letting someone else see would be a sin. She almost laughs out loud. The face that she sees is devoid of everything.
He advances slowly, pulling out the blade. Her husband doesn't try to fight him anymore. He takes her hand in his and squeezes it gently, like the first time they met, like the first time they made love.
"I'm pregnant, Fugaku," she whispers to him in this final moment, thinking he has the right to know. It is when he turns his eyes to her that Itachi severs his spine.
She puts her hands on her stomach, feeling for signs of life the way she had done when she had learned of Itachi's existence. Now, looking into a killer's eyes, she sees no trace of the baby for whom she used to fear. Her only consolation is that Sasuke isn't home.
She sees the flash of metal that she has longed to return to and then she is once again with her husband, with family.
"Aujourd'hui, maman est morte."
- Albert Camus