A/N: This is a Naruto fanfic, though the first chapter may not seem like it because the introduction chapter focuses on original characters. The Itachi of Chapter One is NOT Itachi Uchiha. You are challenged to read all the way through chapter one (or even just halfway) before dismissing it on this fact. It's a tough sell (I'm aware) but I write professionally. These aren't Sues.
Warnings: This fanfic is for 16+ readers (rated M). It contains sexual references, mature themes (including sado-masochism...described vaguely but not "shown"), some violence, a very little bit of swearing, and other material. , This fic FOLLOWS THE GUIDELINES for this site so please do not report it as MA. There are no explicit sex scenes. All such scenes "cut off" before anything happens. Violence is typical for a story about ninjas. There isn't anything extremely disturbing described in any detail.
Notes: White Rain does NOT take place in an AU (alternate universe). It starts off in a different country, but in the same world as Naruto-verse, just a great distance away, and roughly ten years after the projected end of the manga (i.e Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura and Co are roughly in their mid-twenties). The majority of the story will take place in Konoha.
White Rain follows a prequel/pilot I wrote previously called To Sleep With Demons, featuring Itachi Uchiha that explains part of the back history of this story. It's not necessary to read the prequel. Relevant information will be integrated.
Chapters are long and get longer and longer.
I LOVE reviews. Please review.
Disclaimer: I own my original characters. I don't own the characters, world, or concepts of Kishimoto and associated entities. I am not compensated in any way for this story (except by reviews)
Chapter One: The Black Vase
"Rina! Watch this!"
Itachi stood at the edge of the precipice, waiting as his sister scrambled to the top of the ridge behind him. She scrubbed dirt from her cheek and dusted off her skirts. When she straightened, her round black eyes took in the drop from the cliff in front of his toes. Her mouth formed a little round "O," but she didn't say anything.
"I'm going to tie a rope to this tree," Itachi said, patting the bark where he had already secured the knot, "and then swing down the sheer face, all the way to the bottom."
"You have enough rope," Rina said. Despite the hitch in her voice, it wasn't quite a question. Her eyes studied the cliff, but she didn't try to discourage him. She was used to his stunts by now. "How are you going to get back up?"
Always the practical thinker. He grinned. She didn't care about the answer. She asked because she wouldn't go down with him, not by swinging on a rope anyway. She would find a way to walk around if he asked her to join him.
He looked down the cliff. It was only about a hundred feet or so, just a drop in the woods, with trees standing tall all around and a mixture of bracken and brambles obscuring the ground below. "I think I can climb it," he said. "Hold my stuff?"
She took his school backpack and settled down next to the tree where he had tied the rope. She made a jumbled pillow out of their mutual belongings and watched as Itachi backed himself to the edge of the cliff and tested the rope. He hoped it would hold his weight.
"Here I go!"
At first, the feeling was that of being airborne. His body flew through nothing, wind whistling in his ears. Then he came swinging back. He held his feet out, expecting to push his body away from the cliff face with his legs and propel himself downward, but at the last second the rope twisted. His body slammed into the rocks, most of the impact absorbed by his left shoulder.
Grunting, he tightened his grip on the rope, scrambling for purchase against the rock wall until the rope stopped spinning. Then he lowered himself down hand over hand. Halfway down, his hands and arms began to ache. When he got close to the ground he realized that Rina was right—the rope wasn't quite long enough. A quick assessment assured him that it wasn't far to jump, though. He pushed away from the cliff face with his feet and let go, falling through the free air about ten feet until he hit the ground on the balls of his feet and pitched forward, tumbling head over heels into the bracken.
"You okay?" Rina called down. He looked up to see her round face peering down at him, large dark eyes framed by straight, jet-black hair.
"Yeah," he said. It was mostly true.
Rina was very patient as he painfully climbed his way back up. It took him three tries on three different routes. When he finally made his way back to the top of the ridge, his sister was reading from her schoolbooks. He sat down next to her, panting, and rooted around in his bag for leftovers from lunch. He shared the cookies he found with his sister. She smiled at him happily, and ate all of them without speaking.
Itachi sprawled out on his back and stared at the sky. He watched clouds crawl across the blue canopy and tried to make them look like things: animals, plants, objects, but the scene failed to distract him. The pictures in his mind of real things were stronger, and it wasn't long before he was restless.
"Think it's safe to go home yet?" he asked. The question was directed at Rina, but he kept his eyes on the sky. They wouldn't last long on cookie crumbs. Rina would get cranky if she didn't eat, and he didn't have enough money to buy them dinner.
Rina didn't answer his question. He didn't really expect her to. She didn't like talking about problems, especially if they upset her and weren't the kind of problems that could be solved with a little thought and a decision.
They had been out a couple of hours now.
When Itachi had picked Rina up from Conservatory after school, they had walked home together like usual only to see the black vase in the second floor window—their mother's bedroom window. The vase was a large clunky thing made of marble.
Itachi had taken Rina's hand while he stared at it, trying to decide what to do.
Stay away. Don't come home.
That was what the vase meant. Itachi's mother had coached him repeatedly on the message over the years, and he made sure that Rina understood it too. Always check the windows. Never enter the house before checking the windows, and if any of the regular furniture was moved around—ANY of it, but especially that ugly black vase—don't come home.
So Itachi led Rina away. It had happened a lot recently, day after day most days of the week. Sometimes they went shopping (if they had any money), or wandered the city's neighborhoods together, but today they took some rope from the backyard shed and went adventuring in the woods. It was just a little forest area—part of the city park actually—but empty most of the time, which made it perfect. Itachi had discovered it on accident one day. It was a new thrill, like roof walking last week, or bridge jumping and cliff diving had been last month, and rock climbing the month before that.
Ever since he turned eleven it was one thing after another. He blamed the hormones, but he couldn't deny that he seemed to save his craziest stunts for when the vase was in the window. He had to keep occupied during those hours so he wouldn't think about the vase, his mother, his father, or what was happening at home. He found that the best way to keep occupied was to feel too excited, too pained, or too scared to think. His arm ached now. He welcomed the throb, the sting, and the itches from the brambles. It was a distraction.
"I'll bet it's okay," he decided aloud after awhile. He couldn't see the bright ball of the sun in the sky anymore. It must have dipped below the mountains. It would be dark soon. They had to go home eventually.
Rina put her book away and got to her feet. She waited for him expectantly. Once he was up and moving, she followed him.
"Do you think mom will find out what you did at school today?" Rina asked him.
Itachi took a deep breath. "Probably. I don't know."
They didn't talk about that either. It was unspoken knowledge that they shared and the silence was beneficial for them both. He could sense Rina thinking about it, though. She had egged him on. She wouldn't want their mother to find out about that, so it was in her best interest if neither of them got caught, though he didn't think she'd betray him anyway—not for this.
"What will you do if she asks?"
"I don't know."
The shadows were long in the streets as they approached the expansive manor house with its white shuttered windows, the black gate, and its elegant gray stone walls. It was a fine house among other fine houses on the highest hill with the best view. If not for its associations and secrets, he would have been fonder of the residence—proud even. Itachi opened the gate and let Rina through first. He followed behind.
"Do you think he's gone?" Rina whispered as they approached the porch.
"Maybe he went out," Itachi said. The vase was no longer in the window, but he was quiet opening the front door anyway. The absence of the vase didn't mean they were alone. It just meant it was safe enough, that whatever his mother didn't want them to see was over.
But Itachi would notice new bruises. He knew it, as surely as he knew that he would see the strain in his mother's eyes. He just wouldn't say anything, especially not at dinner, and never indicate he was any wiser in his father's presence. His mother wouldn't say anything either. Neither would Rina, except in quiet whispers to him when the house was dark, everybody else was asleep, and she crept into his room because she was scared. Otherwise, in daylight, they would all just pretend that nothing was the matter.
But maybe Rina was right. Maybe Gehard wouldn't be there. He often went out, even when he was in town. Itachi knew it was strange to wish his father wasn't ever around. Some days he found himself thinking that it would be best if Gehard would go on one of his business trips and never come home. It didn't even feel painful to think it. There was a time he had wished differently, but since the first time he had seen the bruises and was old enough to understand what they meant, it just wasn't so.
He had never called the man dad, even when he thought of him as his father. His mother had never called him that either. It was always "Gehard this" and "Gehard that." Only rarely would his mother refer to her husband as "your father," and then it was usually only when he was around to hear it and they were discussing something formal like where to send Itachi for prep school.
Itachi and Rina removed their shoes when they entered the house and parted ways to carry their book bags to their rooms. Itachi tossed his on the bed next to his guitar, which he had left out this morning after practicing before school. He hadn't made much progress, which frustrated him. He had heard that music was like math, and he was good at math, but he didn't find guitar as easy as adding up numbers in his head. It disappointed Rina. After her piano and singing audition earned her a place in the Conservatory's Young Talent Competition, she had wanted him to play guitar with her for her first time on a real stage. He wasn't good enough, but he didn't know how to tell her so.
It was his mother's voice calling—firmly. He closed his bedroom door and walked back along the hallway toward the formal dining room. Rina was already seated at the table with a tall glass of orange juice at her elbow. She watched him enter with her dark round eyes slightly wider than usual. He could read the warning in her expression and hesitated in the doorway.
"Your principal called," his mother said.
She stood at the head of the table, pouring a second glass of orange juice—presumably for him. That was his second clue that something was wrong, next to her tone. His mother didn't usually prepare food. They had hired help for that. Itachi realized then that he hadn't seen any of the usual people; maybe his mother or Gehard had sent them all home early. Of course, she might just have nervous energy. Maybe she wanted to serve him herself.
She didn't look nervous. Of course, that was not much to judge by. Looking at Itachi's mother was like studying a painting, even when she was angry. Physically, she looked like his sister, flawless ivory skin, dark brown hair with just a hint of curl, and large, luminous dark eyes. But it wasn't her beauty that people noticed. Regal elegance embodied every inch of her. The way she moved, the way she dressed, the way the light caught the angles of her face: it was as if she was made from fine oils. Not that Itachi was fooled. He knew all her moods, had witnessed her cold anger, and her passionate fury, knew about all the secrets she hid behind silk brocade, lavender soap, social charm and general gaiety. She was a complicated woman, his mother. Right now she was making him nervous.
It was too late to dodge the conversation. She had seen him, addressed the topic, and beckoned him in. He walked slowly forward, and sat down at the dining room table across from his sister. Rina sucked her lips into her mouth. The look she was giving him said it all. She wasn't planning to tattle, but she also hoped she wasn't asked because between him and their mother, her loyalties were divided.
Itachi swallowed. He tried to be light. "What did he call about? My grades?"
"Your grades are fine," his mother snapped. "Don't try to play me. You know better. You got in a fight with another boy today."
Itachi's clenched his hands into fists. They shook on his lap under the table. His mother's dark eyes were like agate stones, hard anger boiled into pinpricks that were trying to bore through him.
"You are not violent," she said. It almost sounded like a prayer. "Tell me you did not hit him first."
Now he was even more ashamed. He stole a glance at Rina. She looked spooked, frozen in her chair like a furtive night creature caught suddenly in the light.
His mother followed his gaze and bore into his sister. "Rina, you were there, weren't you? What happened? Did your bother start a fight?"
Itachi felt some chagrin on Rina's account. Caught between them, she didn't know what to do. "It's okay," he said. "She's going to find out anyway."
Rina turned her head to their mother. "He said something bad."
"Who did? Itachi?"
His mother rounded on him. "Is that the boy you fought? What did you do to him?"
Itachi shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing mu-"
"Punched him," Rina said. "Right in the eye." She demonstrated at the air in front of her. She was smiling too. It took a moment for Itachi to realize that she was proud.
His mother's face didn't look quite so amused. "This is not how I raised you. What did he say?"
Itachi wanted to bolt out of the room, but quick deliberation concluded that that would just be more trouble. Even if she didn't follow, or if he escaped the house somehow, he'd have to come home and face her eventually, and then she'd really lay into him. Best to mitigate. "Nothing," he said with a shrug. "It was a stupid comment and just set me off. I'll apologize to him tomorrow."
"Oh, you surely will. And to his parents. And the principal…" His mother's tone was matter-of-fact, but there was an edge to it. Itachi carefully avoided looking at her. Her tone was clipped. He could feel her anger, tightly controlled, the way she controlled every emotion she had. "But that is not what I asked. I want to know why you thought violence was necessary. What did he say? It must have been something more than stupid for you to hit him in front of everybody."
She was right, but admitting it would require more explanation. It happened right in the middle of the schoolyard, at lunch, in front of pretty much everybody. He wanted to tell her, he had wanted to say a lot of things to her for a long time, but he didn't know how to say it. It would bring up too many hidden things, thoughts, feelings, that cacophony of noise that had exploded from him just prior to when his fist collided Jered's face.
Not that he was sorry. Jered Lassen was a rude, stuck-up kid, like a lot of the kids he went to school with. It was the best school in the county, his mother said, and a lot of the kids in his class seemed to think so too, and that they were pretty special for being there.
But that wasn't why Itachi had punched him.
It wasn't that he felt an outcast. Itachi was special too. The other kids knew his position. Everyone did. He was bright, at the top of most of his classes, but more importantly, he was her son.
The exact amount of the family fortune was a secret—even Itachi didn't know the figures—but the Van Alstyne family, his mother's family, was very well known. Itachi didn't have the Van Alstyne last name—he had his father's—but he was a direct heir, and that made a lot of difference as to "who he was" in society, what was expected of him, and what he was entitled to.
But that wasn't why he had punched Jered either.
"I won't hit him again," Itachi said, still avoiding his mother's sharp, attentive eyes. If he faced her, he feared she would read his soul. He fancied she could see through brick walls. She was very adept at reading people, of seeing right through the facades that everyone in her society seemed to wear like cloaks, and that went double for her own children.
"Why did you hit him?" she demanded again. She wasn't going to give it up.
"He said something rude."
"What did he say?" Clenched jaw. She would hold like a badger.
"I had to hit him for it." And that was the truth.
"What was it? Something about you?"
"About your sister?"
"No." He would have really clocked him for that.
He held back a scoff, and by her face, she knew exactly why. He suspected she had only thrown that in to avoid the obvious conclusion.
He didn't reply. The effort of not speaking was enough to make his jaw ache.
"So it was about me," his mother concluded. Her voice sounded distant, but a moment later she was putting the heat on him again. He stubbornly refused to look at her. "Itachi, I'm not going to get angry. I don't care what this boy said. I just want to know why you felt it was necessary to hit him. Tell me what he said."
He understood that it was not her vanity that made her ask—though she was vain—and he knew that he was not going to get out of this conversation until he told her, but the words wouldn't come. He couldn't repeat them, not to her face. He had been holding them back far too long.
"He called you a whore," Rina said from across the table, and took a sip of orange juice.
Itachi's mother turned to his sister slowly. Itachi was shocked, but simultaneously relieved to have the pressure turned away from him. He was pretty sure that Rina knew what the word meant. It was a term whispered about in fascination, sometimes in gruesome detail, by school kids his age, but sometimes younger. There had been gruesome details whispered about his mother too, but the things Jered Lassen said weren't whispered; they were shouted out loud to everybody, with that wagging tongue and clownish face that seemed to think it was all a great joke.
Rina continued. "Lassen also said that Itachi is a whoreson and a bastard, and that he shouldn't get the family money. Then he said you deserve to get beat. That's when Itachi hit him."
Itachi forced himself to look up. His mother's face was pale. She was a pale woman by nature, but he had never seen her look so ghostly. Her hands reached for the back of Itachi's chair. Her body appeared to tremble beneath her dress.
"I'm not sorry I hit him," Itachi confessed. He didn't know what else to say. He wasn't sorry, but he didn't feel righteous about it either. For one thing, he wasn't all together sure about the truth of the things Jered had said about his mother. He was sure Jered had just repeated something he had heard—probably something his father had told him. A lot of it was false. His mother wasn't a whore—that was ridiculous—but there was too much plausibility regarding his mother's unfaithfulness to Gehard that he wasn't certain it was a lie either. There was a dankness of truth about the rumors that smothered righteous indignation like a funeral cloth. Whatever the truth, he knew it was black and ugly, as black and ugly as the bruises on her arms.
He also knew that it wasn't simple, that it involved adult concepts he understood but did not quite comprehend. In his heart he believed—really believed—that if the truth was gruesome, if she was gruesome, it was in a different way than everybody thought.
And it made him angry. It had for years. He was angry at Jered for talking about what should never be spoken of, and at himself for not being able to speak of it to her, but more than that he was angry at his mother, whom he loved terribly, for making him think anything wrong about her. He wanted to rage, to shout at her, but looking at her, it was not anger that stirred him to speak.
The expression on his mother's face was ghastly. It frightened him more than the rumors about her angered him. His instinct more than anything else was to protect her, to shield her from harm, but he didn't know how, he had never known how, and maybe that was what angered him most.
"I hate him," he said vehemently, bitterly.
"Who?" His mother asked
"Gehard," Rina supplied. She could read his mind. Or maybe they were just thinking the same thing.
"I hate Gehard," Itachi confirmed.
At this confession, this sinful confession, he thought his mother would say "don't say such things about your father," but she didn't say anything. She was staring into space, seeing nothing. No. She was staring at the flight of stairs that led to the second floor, where Itachi assumed Gehard must be.
"Mom?" He began to feel nervous. "Where is he? What is he doing?"
"He's on the phone," she said. There was a moment of silence where he could see her brow knitting in thought, her expression pensive, and then it was if some unseen force had seized and shook her until she rattled. "With the Lassens." She turned on her heel and half pushed Itachi out of his chair. "Get out of the house. Take your sister. Go to your Aunt Cecile's."
He stumbled out of his chair and away from the table. "What? Why?"
"Because he knows. Jered Lassen's father is Rabar Lassen. He owes Gehard money, and I know for a fact he can't pay. Not with gold, but he does have information. He won't hold back. You can't be here when he puts it together. You need to go quickly. Rina, where are your shoes?"
Rina tilted her head to one side like an owl. She turned luminescent eyes to Itachi, questioning his mother's directive, asking him for confirmation.
"Go put your shoes on," he said to her. As Rina hopped off her chair and ran on bare feet to her room, Itachi turned back to his mother. "I don't understand."
"You don't need to. Just hurry!"
"I don't like not understanding! I'm not a child. What is he going to do? If he hurts you, I won't leave."
"Don't be stupid. You are a child. You can't stop him. Take care of your sister. I don't want you to…"
The voice boomed down at them from the top of the stairs.
Itachi felt sweat break out on his face. He couldn't move now. He couldn't abandon his mother to the treachery of that voice.
"Go," she hissed at him.
He shook his head mutely.
Gehard descended the stairs in slow, calculated strides.
All Itachi ever saw when he looked at Gehard was darkness: jet black hair shadowing dark eyes that were close to black, almost as dark as Itachi's own. There were always circles under his father's eyes, from heavy drinking, chain smoking, gambling, late hours, and a varied assortment of narcotics. Gehard wasn't a mess, though. He was an intellectual drunk, an aggressive philanderer, a heavy gambler, and it was rumored that he could lay a man out in two moves or less. There were whispers that he had killed—more than once—over debts in barrooms. He was a ruthless and wildly successful businessman, and there was no denying that what he liked most in the world—except perhaps for women—was money, and violence.
Though he was not heavy, not even a little, Gehard leaned on the rails as he descended the stairs, as if too lazy to support his own body weight. His muscles were well defined and visible though his tank top. He slouched as he walked toward them, shoulders hunched forward. He wore a pair of shapeless gray sweatpants. He was also barefoot.
Only his family ever saw Gehard Barculo this way. Most people saw him suave, well dressed, confident, and gorgeous. To everyone else he grinned, adoring the attention, and told witty jokes at the expense of those who could not hear them. He charmed his way through conversation, into exclusive parties, and out of trouble with the law. It was only here, in the home after countless hours of impressing people, alone with his wife and children, that the real Gehard allowed his inner beast to sprawl.
That was what Itachi thought his mother didn't want them to see. It was in these moods of his—these brooding moods of cold anger and dark desire—that she put the black vase in the window.
"Lucia," he said again, this time with deceptive mildness that frightened Itachi more than the bellow had a moment ago. He was sober enough to be coy and hide the extent of his anger. His mother took a step back and sideways, half-shielding Itachi with her body. Her face was set like stone.
"What do you need?" she asked coolly, following him with her eyes. "Wait upstairs and I will bring it to you."
He regarded her silently for a moment, and then smiled. "I was just on the phone," he said. "Do we have any bourbon?"
"We do. Upstairs."
He looked at her again, pointedly. "Upstairs?"
"Away from the kids?" he asked, his mouth laughing, but his eyes hard as rocks.
"If you please."
He turned his smile on Itachi. The smile was so disarming that Itachi almost believed he meant it, just enough to relax a fraction, and in that instant Gehard had closed the space between Itachi and his mother. His long legs carried him across the dining room in two strides. Before Itachi could so much as yell, Gehard had grabbed his mother's arm and wrenched her violently toward him. He spun her about, wrapping an arm around her throat and drug the back of her body close against him as he stepped backward away from Itachi.
"There now," he said in her ear. "We're all together. No secrets. He's right there. See him?"
Itachi stood frozen to the floor, rooted to the spot. Gehard was glaring at him over his mother's shoulder. His mother's face was miraculously still composed, though she grasped the forearm crushing her throat with her nails. She was looking at Itachi too, and he realized in an instant that her composure was for him. Gehard watched Itachi for a moment or two, and then kissed his mother's cheek through her hair. It was haunting, almost disgusting, the way he did it. Itachi's blood felt hot in his veins. There was a rushing in his head. But he couldn't move.
"She's mine, you know," he said, to Itachi this time. "Won her fair, didn't I? She chose me."
Itachi felt his body trembling where he stood, though whether with rage or fear he wasn't sure. He couldn't speak. Gehard's words were like white noise in his ears, vapid and meaningless. All he could soak in was the baleful, jealous look in his father's eyes—half crazed, half dangerously sane—as the man kissed his mother more tenderly, more hauntingly, while crushing her throat beneath his arm.
Itachi had imagined what it was like, Gehard's behavior with his mother, but he had never seen it before. His imagination couldn't prepare him for it. He couldn't process it. What he was witnessing was too complicated, too animalistic, too far beyond his sensibilities and experience. All he knew was that it was not right.
"Let her go," he said. His voice sounded weak. He had never heard himself sound weak before. "Please." Why did he say that? He should have said something else. He knew it the second the word escaped his lips.
"Why should I?" Gehard's face was laughing at him, clownish, cocky, like Jered's had been, only Gehard was not a stupid child. Gehard was doing it on purpose. He was waiting for Itachi to throw a punch. Waiting for it like a salivating dog.
Itachi's body trembled from not moving. "She's my mother. She's your wife. We're your kids. Be kind."
Gehard chuckled. It was a sharp, mechanical sound, like metal gears grating over rain and rust. "I don't think so."
"She can't breathe!"
Gehard laughed. "She likes it. Don't you, you cold bitch? You like it."
He pulled his arm in tighter. Itachi saw his mother's composure break, though whether because of the words or because she was in pain or unable to draw breath he wasn't sure. Either way, she struggled, digging her nails into Gehard's arm. His mouth twisted. She must have done something, dug an elbow in to his gut perhaps, because Gehard grabbed her hair with his free hand and wrenched her head back until she could only stare at the ceiling.
"Are they mine?" he demanded, yelling into her ear. "Are they? Either one?"
Itachi's mother didn't answer. She continued to claw at his arm. Itachi was almost certain now that she couldn't breathe.
"I'll get it out of you," he snarled. "I'll find out." He laughed again. The switch between rage and amusement made Itachi's skin crawl. "You filthy whore. I always wondered. You must not get it. I thought I made it clear. Didn't I? I swear to God, woman." He looked meaningfully at Itachi and shook his mother's head by her hair. "You had better hope at least one of them is mine. Because if they aren't, I don't need them. Do you understand that?" He shook her. "DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?"
At that moment, Itachi heard a sound, a shuffle of shoes on wooden floorboards. "Rina!" he shouted. "Don't come in here!"
But it was too late.
Rina, with shoes on both feet, a ribbon in her hair, and a light purple cardigan sweater buttoned over her front, walked into the living room. She stopped cold in the entryway, mouth agape and eyes wide open. Itachi watched the dreamy expression in her face disintegrate into mindless panic.
"Mama!" she screamed, and flung her small body at Gehard. "MAMA!" She reached up to tear at his arm, her little hands batting ineffectively at the muscles that gripped her mother by the hair and throat. Tears streamed down her face as she clawed at Gehard's fingers.
Gehard barely even took note of her. He saw her fly at him and released his mother's throat to back swing at Rina's face like he was playing tennis. The collision of his forearm against her head fell deaf on Itachi's ears. He saw Rina collapse like an empty sack, tripping over her skirts to smash her face into the hard wood floors. He heard nothing. For a moment there was silence, and then tears erupted from his sister's throat, wails of pain and fear that hammered into Itachi's skull and broke through numb disbelief. Blood streamed from his little sister's forehead where she had split the skin on the floorboards. Gehard's free arm dangled above his sister's prone body. His mother was shouting, trying to twist free of the grip Gehard had on her hair.
"Shut up!" Gehard was screaming at his mother. "I said shut up! Look what you made me do!" He reached down and lifted Rina to her knees by the back of her dress and looked into her face. She stopped sobbing, thrashing in his grip with little whimpers of fear, and cried Itachi's name.
"Who does she belong to?" Gehard demanded, this time at Itachi's mother. "I swear to God, Lucia, you had better hope he is well protected." He looked at Rina's tear-streaked face. Her ribbon lay crumpled on the floor, her hair a mess around her eyes, her chin wobbling, jaw set, blood dripping down the bridge of her nose. "She's a beauty, isn't she? Even banged up, she's a beauty, more so than you someday, I think. And so talented. God, I thought she was mine..."
Itachi launched himself at Gehard. "Let her go!" He was stronger than Rina, much stronger, and he threw everything he had into his fists. His teachers always said he was a spry kid—energetic, powerful, and quick of mind and body. They were always asking him to slow down and be careful. His coaches found him adept, strong, and aggressive; they urged him on. He spent much of his free time active. He could beat down most the kids in his class with sheer force of energy.
Gehard made him feel like a clumsy kitten. His fists flailed against nothing, emptiness, as Gehard's knee slammed up into his chest. The air left his lungs, sucked out of his body so hard he couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't feel anything but aching and burning pain in the empty cavity of his chest. His knees hit the floorboards and he fell forward onto his hands, unable to gasp, pant, cry, or speak. It was terrifying, dizzying, nauseating. And then Gehard's leg came down on his back. He sprawled flat, choked and broken, unable even to roll away to avoid a third blow.
His mother's voice, frantic, but forceful.
"Gehard. Don't! Whatever you heard, it's a lie! They are yours. They are yours!"
The sensation of threat and endangerment vanished as quickly as it had overwhelmed him. The whisper of his mother's skirts rushed into Itachi's ears. He could feel her hands on the back of his neck, cool and gentle, soft as the lavender soap that he associated as her fragrance. Itachi turned his head to look at her, to let her know that he was all right, that the air was returning to his lungs and that in a moment he would rise.
He barely caught sight of her dark hair as she knelt before Gehard's bare foot landed between them. His mother straightened her back as Gehard pulled her up by the shoulder and grabbed her face. Seizing her jaw in one hand and fistful of hair in the other, he applied pressure and pulled until she rose on tiptoe and cried out in pain.
Then he cuffed her across the face.
"Get on your knees," he said. "Get on your knees, you lying bitch." He said it very calmly, like a man addressing a trained animal. To Itachi's horror, his mother dropped to her knees on command. Itachi shut his eyes and tried to lie still. "There's a girl," he heard Gehard say. "That's good."
His mother didn't speak.
"Now. Say it again. Are they mine?"
"Both of them?"
Gehard chuckled. "They do look like me," he admitted. "You thought very carefully about that didn't you? You lying whore. So clever. I am sorry it had to come to this. I don't like it, what you are forcing me to do. You're such a liar."
Itachi's mother's face tightened. She didn't answer.
Her silence seemed to have an effect. Gehard looked at Rina, his expression considering.
"Rina?" Gehard called out. "Rina, sweetie, are you okay? I didn't mean to knock you down, princess. Don't get in my way next time. Mama made me angry."
Rina didn't answer, not so much as a murmur.
"Doesn't know, does she?" Gehard spat, this time addressing Itachi's mother. "How have you been raising them to think of me? What have you been telling them? You manipulative little bitch. It's all going to change now. From today on, it's going to be different. Right?"
"You will obey me in this?"
He slapped her face so hard the sound echoed in the hallway. "Yes, sir," he said. "I want to believe you. Make me believe."
The tile was cold against Itachi's cheek. His body felt like lead, but his arms and chest and legs were shaking with such fervor it took everything he had to lay still. He wanted to throw himself at Gehard and hit him and hit him and hit him until the man's body crumpled like tin foil, but he didn't have the strength. He closed his eyes and tried not to think of the red handprint that Gehard had branded on his mother's face. It would be better to wait, just wait. He had to stay still. He had to be patient. Someday—No. For now it was better not to think about that. He had to wait, just wait. He had to stay still.
He repeated the litany until he was numb to everything else. If he moved, he would be kicked. Worse, his mother would be hurt again. Gehard might break her jaw if she tried to defend them again. And Rina? He tried not to look in her direction. She was so quiet, like a doll that had been broken. So he stayed where he was too, shaking, trying hard to hold it all in.
"Yes, sir," his mother said, loud and cool. Itachi forced open his eyes to look at her. She was still on her knees. The muscles in her face were clenched so tightly he could see the stress in her jaw. Gehard was right about one thing. Itachi's mother was good at lying. He had seen her lie and lie and lie his whole life. She was so good at it, no one knew the real her; she didn't show that face often. "Please forgive me, sir."
Itachi's father—not his father, he prayed with sudden wild, desperate longing—was quiet for a moment.
Gehard grunted. "I'm going to the bank," he announced. "I'll call on the manager personally. I'm going to freeze your accounts so you don't try to run out of here. You're going to have to earn my trust back. You understand?"
"I'll wait here, with the children."
"I expect dinner at seven. We'll all sit down and have a quiet meal."
Itachi listened, his heart beating in his chest, as Gehard walked barefoot across the pristine, white marble entryway of their elegant home to the front door. He listened as the man pulled his boots on his feet, stomped them on the floor and shrugged into his coat. He listened as the front door opened and then shut with a heavy thud.
He stayed still for a moment, listening to the silence, to the hum of tension in the air, and breathed in through his nose.
"Mom," he said, raising his head slowly.
She was bent over her knees, silent, but he thought she might be weeping.
"Mom…" he whispered again.
Rina lifted her head. She looked pale as winter, her dark eyes black pools of emptiness. The blood had dried on her forehead. She was the first to stumble to her feet. The one she ran to was Itachi, her legs trembling to hold her weight as she wobbled across the floor. He sat up just before she reached him and caught her in a rough hug, holding her tight as she clung to him.
His mother lifted her face. He couldn't see any tears on her cheeks, but her slender arms were shaking. She was angry, he realized, angrier than he had ever seen her, angrier than she was sad or frightened.
She was on her feet in one swift, sweeping movement. Itachi stood too, still holding Rina, whose grip had relaxed around his neck. His mother's expression was focused. He trusted that look to his bones. He had seen her win more often than he had seen her lie. He waited for her to tell him what to do.
"Pack your things," she said. "Your sister's too. Just what you can carry. Right now."
He didn't need to ask why. "Where are we going to go? Aunt Cecile's?"
His mother shook her head. "We can't go to Cecile's. He will look for us there first. When he doesn't find us, he will look everywhere, all over town, in every home and establishment that knows my name."
"He wouldn't hurt Cecile."
"He'll find a way to get to us," his mother said, still pacing the room. "We can't be anywhere near here." She stopped pacing and turned to face him. "Didn't I tell you to pack? Go now! Quickly."
"Mama," Rina bleated, and tore free of Itachi's arms to run to their mother.
Itachi abandoned them to each other and darted out of the room to pack. In his own room, he hardly looked at what he grabbed. He left his books, his guitar, the expensive clothes he had been planning to wear to a party, and took only what he thought was practical—a hooded jacket, a change of clothes, his pocket knife, a handkerchief, all the money he had been saving up in his drawer, an unopened bar of soap, his abacus… His eyes darted around the room for something else worth taking. This was it: his whole life. It was just stuff.
Seeing nothing essential, he closed the door on everything he had ever owned and went to his sister's room to pack for Rina. She would need clothes too, and a coat—but not the fur one she loved most—and hair ties, of course. She would want to take her music books, he knew, and a lot of other unnecessary things probably; it was best if she never came in to remember what she was leaving. He packed only the competition piece she had been working so hard on and stopped in their shared bathroom to add some toiletries.
When he returned to the living room, his mother was stuffing a purse with silk scarves and jewelry—all of her jewelry; her diamond earrings, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, even her wedding ring went into a bag. It took him a minute to realize that she must be planning to pawn it.
"Hurry," she said, when she saw him. "Rina, are you ready?"
Rina nodded. Her face was scrubbed free of tears and she had tied the ribbon back in her hair. Itachi tossed her coat and backpack to her. She shrugged into her coat and peered inside her bag, but put it on without saying anything.
"We have some food," his mother was saying as she lifted her own bag over her shoulder and picked up a second filled with the things she was planning to sell. There was a third on the floor, filled with packaged items from the pantry. "It's enough until I can get money. Itachi, do you think you carry…?"
He slung the food bag over his shoulder without a complaint. His mother took Rina's hand.
They left the house together, walking out the front door and hurrying down the street without slowing or looking back. It was dusk, but not yet night. Itachi was glad of his jacket.
"Where are we going to go?" Itachi asked as soon as they were out of the neighborhood.
"As far away as we can as fast as we can."
"But where do we stop?"
"The Land of Fire."
"Where the hell is that?"
His mother's face was impassive, stony. She didn't tell him to watch his language. "Far far away," she said. "Over the mountains, across the water, across the desert."
Itachi almost stopped in his tracks. He had been thinking they would hide out in the next city, or the countryside, or somewhere down south on the coast at the furthest. But this… this was another land, another continent, another world. Now that he thought about it, he had heard of The Land of Fire—once—in an obscure lesson on far off cultures in a history class.
"Have you been there before?" he asked.
"Yes. More than once. It's a long story. The first time, I went for a reason." She looked at him significantly. "I went for you."
"What do you mean?"
"Gehard was…different when I first married him, but not so different. I saw him for what he was and I knew…" She took a deep breath. "It's a long story. Suffice it to say that he doesn't know the extent of what I've done. He would never think I would go so far. He wouldn't think I had it in me to leave my comforts behind, not even to save my life."
"How do you mean you did it for me?"
"I met your father there."
Itachi stared at her. "My…?"
"Your real father," his mother said firmly. There was a dangerous light in her eyes, a force he wasn't using to seeing. "That land was war torn, ravaged, dangerous, but it was the best place to go for what I needed. It's different now. We'll seek asylum in your father's country."
Rina was listening too. Her face looked strange. Itachi wondered what she was thinking.
"There's a village," his mother continued. He could almost see the wheels turning in her head behind her eyes. "A village where your father grew up. The two of you might even have family there. An uncle."
"Just one," his mother said grimly.
"I don't want to go to a village!" Rina cried suddenly, her voice scrunched and tiny sounding like it always was when she was stressed or tearful or tired.
"Be quiet, Rina," Itachi told her. He wanted to hear more. "Who is my uncle?" He wasn't brave enough to ask about his father—not yet.
"I never met him, but—"
"I don't want to go to a village!" Rina screamed again. She clutched her mother's hand and pulled her arm until she halted them all in the middle of the street. "They won't have Conservatory! The Music Competition is in spring! I can't miss it!"
"You'd rather stay here?" Itachi snapped at her.
Rina dropped her mother's hand and quieted, looking hurt and sulky. She didn't cry. She wasn't sad. She was upset. He understood. They were leaving their lives behind, everything all at once, and she was just beginning to grasp it. They would start over, in a distant village, as nobodies. Some part of her was reacting and rejecting the change, objecting violently, irrationally. She so loved music.
He knelt in front of her, waiting patiently until tears filled her eyes. She refused to look at him, embarrassed. "I'm sure there will be some place you can sing," he said softly. "Maybe even someone really special to teach you." He looked back at his mother. "What kind of village is it?"
His mother was silent for a moment. "It's a hidden village," she said. "A Shinobi village."
Itachi was struck momentarily speechless. Rina looked first to him and then to his mother, gauging their reactions to know how she should react. She was baffled. She didn't know the word. She hadn't studied it in school yet. She didn't even have World Cultures until next year.
"A ninja village?" Itachi asked. "Real ninjas?"
"Yes. Your uncle is one. So was your father."
"Honest to God ninjas?"
"The name of the village is Konoha, the Village Hidden in the Leaves, or Leaf Village. We will ask them to take us in, at least for awhile, and hope they agree."
"Why wouldn't they? Too many secrets?"
"That, yes, but that's not my biggest concern."
"Given who your father is, I don't know if your existence, or Rina's, or mine, we will be welcome."
She took a deep breath. "You're named after your father, Itachi Uchiha. He was a rogue ninja of the village we're going to. He was also a murderer."
Reviews-especially long ones-are deeply appreciated, not just because they make me happy, but because they help me know whether what I'm writing comes off as I think it does or ought to. This chapter is all Original Characters, and OCs are a hard sell in fanfic. So what did you think? Will you read on? The next chapter will take place in Konoha.