Word Count: 3,006
Dedicated to: Incognito Temptation
Thanks to:CollaneR for giving me feedback on a great deal of this piece and for helping me with my summary and dealing with my indecisiveness. Her endless patience and ability to spur on my muses is invaluable. You are a gem, dear. :)
A/N: This is a rather large edit. (November 2008.) In fact, this went from 1,384 words to what is it now. I'd definitely say that this deserves a re-read. And, as always, my greatest wish for everyone who reads it that they take something away from this, whether it be seeing any of the characters in a new light, or maybe hating them a little less. I really enjoyed writing this, and so I hope everything enjoys reading it. Thank you.
Reminder: This was written after I read chapter 386 of the manga. I recommend reading that chapter so you can completely understand some of the things I put in the story, but I like to think that it'd be enjoyable without it. :) Either way, there are no overt spoilers.
With motherhood comes bravery—Amazonian feats and the type of courage that only comes from burning liquor and the naïvety of youth. It is a transformation; a caterpillar into a butterfly, a flower after being bloomed. An innate facet that is repressed and released, forced out with screams and pushed into existence through a bony pelvis, head tilted back and mouth wide open, gasping and breathing. Mothers are supposed to be fearless, but Mikoto is so very afraid.
Mikoto gave birth to Itachi on a Tuesday in early June; it was an unusually hot day, and beads of sweat dripped down her face and left salty tracks near the corner of her mouth as she contorted and writhed. She was too young, she thought, too young. Twenty-two and dying in her own bedroom, bleeding and screaming, giving life and losing hers. It was too hard, too hard, and she didn't know where Fugaku was.
Itachi was two months too early, and he didn't scream when the midwife pulled him out. He was stillborn, she said, and Mikoto forgot how to breathe, too. It took one minute and forty-three seconds before Itachi started to cry, but when the midwife laid him on Mikoto's chest, time stood still. Her baby boy—tiny and pink, his fists balled up and eyes wide open. Mikoto laughed shakily, salty tears soon mixing with salty sweat. She knew fear: "Baby, keep breathing. Baby, don't cry."
Fugaku first held Itachi a week after his birth, his hands were soiled and he had blood underneath his nails. He'd just come back from one of those missions; his bruises blossomed like peacock's feathers, and he didn't want to touch Mikoto anymore. Itachi fussed in Fugaku's arms, squinting his eyes and flailing his little limbs. Fugaku thought that Itachi was too small; Mikoto was just glad that Itachi was still breathing. As Fugaku deposited Itachi back in her arms—the baby not fussing anymore—she understood that he would never be proud of her son.
Mikoto used to sing Itachi lullabies, just like any good mother would. She would tuck him in the crook of her arm and sing as best she could, crooning and humming and promising. Mikoto would tell Itachi that she loved him—petting his long and silky hair, twisting her fingers through the curls by his temples—and that she would always do what was best for him. He was her baby boy.
Mikoto gave Itachi his first kunai when he was three months old and teething. It was harmless in the hands of a child, dull on both sides and with a rounded tip, useless. But, one day, Mikoto knew, he'd use that same kunai and slay hundreds. (He'd use his Sharingan and slay thousands.) For now, however, Itachi chewed on it mightily, and she was proud.
Itachi tried to walk on a Thursday in late June, and Mikoto held his hands, cheering him on and smiling broadly as he gurgled happily and tried to call her "Mama". It was a gorgeous day and Mikoto felt young, she took Itachi outside and held him so that he could swing his feet in the grass; the blades tickled, and he laughed. Mikoto ran with him through the sunflower fields, holding him up and over her head, his glossy hair shining in the sunlight as she twirled and swirled, speeding up and slowing down, laughing and jumping until her breath was lost in the wind about her. It was a perfect day—or, at least, it was supposed to be.
That night, Mikoto found Itachi laying prone in his crib, wrapped up in an old cotton blanket and as still as a corpse, the leg of his stuffed bear gripped tightly in his little hand. Mikoto panicked and screamed until her jaw ached, wailing until she could hear hot blood rushing past her ears. And for a lurching second amidst all the panic and terror, Mikoto's treacherous heart knew. In the next instance, it seemed, she was at the hospital and a medic was by her side, grasping at her arms as her knees buckled, pulling her until she collapsed breathlessly into a chair. Mikoto felt sick and her throat constricted; the medic explained everything and she hated herself. If anything, it was her fault Itachi was two months premature. (It was her fault, but she never did forget what her first impulse of blame had been.)
Itachi continued walking when he was fourteen months old and uncoordinated, tottering and bruising his knees as often as Mikoto held her breath, his small face twisted in concentration and wet with tears and mucus. Mikoto reached to help her son up as he landed with a sound thump on his padded rear, but Fugaku stayed her hand. She opened her mouth to protest, balling her dainty fists and furrowing her eyebrows as Itachi hiccuped in the corner, but Fugaku looked as immovable as a mountain. Mikoto deferred to her husband, biting the inside of her cheek until it bled.
When Mikoto was twenty-five, she tried to kill Fugaku with her bare hands. It was a terrifying moment. There were only mere seconds between her slamming open Itachi's bedroom door—seeing her husband forcing chakra into her screaming child—and launching herself at Fugaku, catching him off guard and wrapping her hands around his neck, squeezing. Mikoto spat and bit, taking no notice of the kunai pressed to the soft skin of her throat and the deadly fingers forming seals that would end her life before she could even scream. But Mikoto—Mikoto was a jounin too, she could be deadly, deadly. (And, Mikoto doesn't remember much of what happened later, but she can remember fingers tearing at her clothes, pulling at her skin, and the elders telling her that she'd seen nothing.)
Two weeks later, after Mikoto was released from the Uchiha Holding Facility—noticeably gaunt, with bloodshot eyes and trembling hands—she taught Itachi how to throw the kunai he teethed on. (For as long as she lived, Mikoto would teach Itachi to be strong.)
Itachi graduated from the academy at seven years old and at the top of his class. He wore his forehead protector proudly as he tried his best to represent his clan, pale little hands held behind a back that was ramrod straight. Mikoto stood in the crowd and cheered with the rest of the parents during the ceremony, clenching her fists and whistling with her pinkies like she used to as a pig-tailed, freckled little girl. Fugaku stood apart from her and was silent, looking down his nose and acknowledging no one. Mikoto—forgetting herself—spun around and clutched Fugaku's sleeve in her hands, grinning from ear to ear, pointing at their son and asking if he could even believe it. He shrugged her off and reminded her that Hatake Kakashi had graduated when he was five; no, Fugaku was not proud of her son.
That night, she celebrated with Itachi. She sat him on top of one of the oak stools in the kitchen (watching as his feet didn't touch the ground) and let him watch as she baked a cake; and, between cracking eggs and folding batter, Mikoto told him everything he needed to know about life. She told him about the clan and what they stood for—dirty little secrets falling from her lips like acid rain, bubbling up from deep inside her and welling over. Mikoto turned to face Itachi, wiping her soiled hands on her apron and holding his gaze as she told him about power and how to attain it; the secret of the Sharingan and the Uchiha before them; his baby brother, the one she had made just for him. Afterwards, they sat together and ate cake. It was justice, and Mikoto laughed.
The very next year, Itachi mastered the Sharingan, and soon, complex jutsu became as easy as breathing. The clan started to notice and Fugaku started coming home earlier; leaning against the walls of the kitchen with his arms crossed and the corner of his lip pulled up, watching his wife with their two sons, picking Sasuke up as he toddled to him and pecking his wife on the cheek. Mikoto smiles, of course—because she has learned over the years—and bustles about, boiling water and chopping leeks, turning her back on her husband and holding Itachi to her side.
Soon, Mikoto saw very little of her oldest son; the body pressed close to her side was smaller, now, and the little hand that held hers was oftentimes sticky and dirty. She didn't mind, much. Mikoto was never lonely, there were always things to do: a never-ending list of chores, and having a soirée every couple of weeks so that diplomats would speak well of Uchiha Fugaku and his clan. Mikoto knitted, now; taking brightly colored yarn and her knitting needles with her onto the engawa, letting the wind lift her hair from her face as she sat comfortably, tucking her legs underneath her, trying to capture sunlight and knit it into a reminder that Itachi would remember always.
Important things were different, though. Itachi didn't speak as much; he would hum and grunt and crinkle the corner of his eyes just right, then sneak out of the room and leave Mikoto to wonder if he wasn't his father's son, afterall. He spent most of his day down at the training fields, and he'd often come home covered in soot and blood, too exhausted to remove even his sandals before collapsing on his bed. It was in those quiet evenings that Mikoto would gather Sasuke in her arms and lightly tap his nose, teaching him to listen to his brother, to always mind his brother. Sasuke would listen of course, eagerly and with enough enthusiam to light up a room with. He worshipped the ground Itachi walked on—the very same ground on which Itachi learned to hate and learned to kill; the same ground that was damp with his blood, deep under the surface.
At thirteen, Itachi became an ANBU captain, and Mikoto saw her baby boy become a man right before her eyes—clad in leather and armor, with a sharpness to his jaw that rivaled that of the katana strapped to his bony back. Mikoto barely recognized him anymore. He would disappear for months on end, only to return a inch taller, with more scars and a redder tint to his eyes. There was an aura about him—resentment, scorn, maybe—ardent and bridled. It scared her, but Mikoto could find it in herself to be proud.
The beginning of the end came riding along on the winds of an uncomfortably hot day in mid-June. Sasuke had come running into the house, tears streaming down his face as he babbled, eyes wide as he took deep breaths. Mikoto had comforted him, kneeling down so that she could meet his eyes, stroking his hair and saying to him: "Sasuke, breathe. Sasuke, don't cry."
Itachi, it seemed, had turned his Sharingan upon some of his clan—a cardinal sin among the Uchiha. Mikoto was shocked into stillness, her vision expanded and funnelled as she felt heat rise to her head, and her heart speed up. She wasn't afraid, necessarily; she had raised Itachi right, and no one was a match to her son. But even so, she hated it. She hated it all; the tension in the air, the way that no one (not even Itachi) would look her in the eyes, and the way that Sasuke snivelled under the bed in his room.
Mikoto was tired, suddenly. And as she sat formally out on the engawa, her legs folded neatly underneath her, she reminisced. She could remember Itachi's first smile, his first steps. The way Itachi learned to be independent, and the exact moment he decided that he was too old for her to kiss his bruises: "I'm a ninja now, Mother." Mikoto can remember how she taught him to throw kunai and shuriken, how she steadied his hand and spoke softly to him; she taught him how to control his chakra well enough to split daisies from twenty yards away, Mikoto taught him how to walk on water.
Mikoto remembers him as a babe—reddened, wrinkled, and just a bit too small. She remembers the fight for his father's attention, Fugaku's upturned lips and aristocratic gaze; she remembers Itachi's quizzical looks, and the way she was never sure if he really did care for his father's attention. (But she made sure to make him strong, in any case.)
She can picture his candid smiles as an infant and their increased rarity as he grew—both as a child and as a ninja; Mikoto treasures the times Itachi told her he loved her in a place so deep in her heart that not even the Uchiha can touch it. Mostly, though, Mikoto remembers holding him that very first night, swaddled in her own baby blanket and barely moving.
Mikoto remembers, and she remembers well.
But, memories have no place here; not when Itachi's older (and she doesn't quite recognize him) and standing over her like Fugaku stood over the both of them. He's taller now, colder, and pale—but not pink—with silky black hair that clings to the contours of his face just like it did when Mikoto gave him his first bath. And Mikoto knows that it is death that she sees before her; death that she bled for and gave birth to a long, long seventeen years ago.
He's going to kill her soon, she knows—just because mothers know things—and she's glad that she wasn't the first to die. The look on his face, the look in his eyes is glorious, and she feels like she's watching a god. Mikoto is kneeling before her son, relaxed and smiling, crossing her legs like it has never been proper for an Uchiha to do. She gazes up at him and stretches out her hand. He leans forward obligingly and she strokes his face, her eyes shining with unshed tears.
Mikoto looks off to her side and sees her husband. He's not dead, yet. Itachi has trapped him in a genjutsu and Fugaku's face is twisted into a horrible mask, he's grasping at air and there is spittle on his chin. Mikoto doesn't really care, but she wipes his face with her skirt. (Force of habit, she supposes, she's an Uchiha, now.)
Mikoto flicks her eyes back up at her son and knows that she's one of the last Uchiha left. She doesn't mind. She'd ask, but Mikoto wants to die with a fresh taste in her mouth—Uchiha, Uchiha, Uchiha, it makes her sick. At least, however, she's not scared anymore, not really. She smiles at her baby boy and looks past the Sharingan to see a spark that had died out many years ago, and Mikoto feels return the happiness that was lost to her the day she was told she would wed her second cousin. You'll finally be a respectable woman, Mikoto, you should celebrate.
"You are strong, my child," Mikoto whispers, willing the pride she felt to show in her voice. Itachi didn't answer, but Mikoto expected that—he hasn't been talking much, lately.
Next to her, Fugaku is convulsing, foaming at the mouth and moaning. Mikoto looks Itachi in the eyes and he nods, his Sharingan begins to revolve, and Mikoto manages to remind to him to watch over his brother before the world goes black.
Mikoto felt no pain, and she was not afraid.
Mikoto had been scared for most of Itachi life of many, many things. She had feared for his life, and then for his death, she feared for his sanity and for his health; she feared him pricking his finger on a rosebush and of him falling and scraping his knee. Mikoto feared for his freedom, just as she feared for hers seventeen years and nine months ago. She was a country girl, see—boisterous and spirited. She skinned her knees and whistled with her pinkies, she ran through sunflower fields and ripped holes in her dresses while tumbling on the ground. She loved freely and laughed easily, she played shuriken tag and hated the taste of tea. The Uchiha stole her freedom and her pride; the Uchiha took her dignity and her lifeblood, pressing her and forcing her into a mold that pinched her skin and chafed her throat.
So, Mikoto did what she thought any mother would do; she bore a son and taught him everything she knew. She bore a second son as a savior for the first and taught him to mind his brother, because Mikoto, Mikoto had a plan. She'd lived a long enough life, she thought, long enough to taste freedom and be enslaved, to learn the secrets of life and pass them on.
Itachi would be great, Itachi would be strong, and it would be so because Mikoto taught him well.
(And Mikoto would not be afraid of the consequences.)