Dedicated with the utmost respect and gratitude to Falling Tears of Death for her outstanding love and support. Happy (late) birthday, dearest!
Innocence has a fundamental essence - a smell, if you will. To Itachi, who has lived in a haze of bloodlust and betrayal from the tender age of thirteen, it is like dewy grass on a summer morning, the scent of a sunlit meadow on a gentle breeze. He encounters it with a sense of longing, nostalgia. He has come too far to smell of anything but blood and anger but, for the few short moments when he encounters purity, he likes to imagine that a little bit rubs off on him.
Deidara, for all his posturing, is fundamentally an innocent, which explains Itachi's fascination. Naruto...
Ever so often, maybe once a year, he will venture into Konoha. Ostensibly, to perform a surreptitious check-up on Sasuke's progress, but that mission (Sasuke will kill him anyway, eventually, regardless of what ability he has now - and he is desperate, after all) is inevitably sidelined by one of Itachi's guilty pleasures.
He will never admit it, even under duress (torture, he tells himself; not even torture will be able to make him divulge this little secret), but he his absolutely, utterly in love with...
Shameful, he knows, for a murderer, assassin, and self-proclaimed sociopath. But the broth is hot and spicy (because the spicy ramen is his favorite), and the noodles are as twisted and tangled up as ever, and even though he makes a point of sampling the best ramen wherever he goes (to the eternal bafflement and amusement of his partner, Kisame), none are comparable to Ichiraku's. Good old Konoha fare, decadent yet simple, greasy yet healthy.
He knows those are contradictions. He's certifiably insane, though; he can say things like that because they make sense to him.
(He also knows innocence doesn't have an actual smell, but he can scent it anyway. Just one of the many benefits of being a genius. His old comrades in the ANBU used to tease him for that; the ones he didn't scare away, that is. They're probably- maybe- hopefully all dead now, or at least retired. The heightened pay still doesn't make an ANBU job worth shit.)
So he's sitting at the counter, nursing his second bowl of extra chili ramen (normally, he's not a big eater, but he's willing to make an exception for this), and trying to smell innocence. He's having a hard time, though; it's difficult to weed out all the shitty scents of deception and pain and death and blood. This is a ninja village after all, and most of its residents are constantly on edge. It's funny, really (ironic, actually), that everyone here can look so bang-up happy. No wonder he ran off and joined the Akatsuki...
That stray reminiscence leads his thoughts in another, entirely unwelcome direction, and the ever-present scent of blood grows stronger around him. No wonder he murdered the entire clan. Even the children. The little kids. Babies.
Fuck that. He's too chickenshit for suicide, but he's going to die soon anyway.
If Sasuke's as good as he thinks he is.
His contemplation having taken a decidedly fatalistic bent, he slurps up another chopstick-full of noodles. The spiciness is nice, sizzling on his tongue. Like a little fire burning its way down his throat. He wonders whether they'll have spicy ramen in the afterlife. Maybe - but in the hell he's going to, definitely not.
Again with that suicidal crap. He thinks, to hell with it, then adds, feeling traitorous, literally, then realizes the irony of his mood, and chuckles.
The pretty-enough girl behind the counter gives him a strange look out of the corner of his eye. Now that's not nice. He knows they get plenty of unbalanced customers - this is a ninja village, everyone's insane. Although they're probably less insane then him, maybe, because they don't go murdering-
Anyway, his henge should be enough to ease any suspicions. Cropped black hair, an open face with pale brown eyes, slightly freckled and mixed with a healthy dash of safety. Whoever says it's impossible to add emotional aspects to a jutsu? Small-timers like Iruka (he knows Iruka, his preschool teacher he seldom remembers with anything but a kind of condescending fondness) do it all the time. It's only when you hit the big money, the real power, that you stop.
Unless, of course, you're a genius like Itachi.
Genius, genius, genius, pretty damn smart... Too many of those nowadays.
He has been so lost in his musings that he forgot to smell. (Funny sentence, that.) And the scent of old blood around him has gradually been replaced by - sunshine. Spirit. Vibrancy. Orange. Blue. Blonde. Deidara- Naruto.
Demon fox, Kyuubi's vessel, (inexplicably) Sasuke's best friend.
He watches silently as the spiky-haired kid plops down on the adjacent stool (funny, there's another unoccupied one at the far end; why is he sitting so close?) and orders the biggest bowl of miso ramen they have. Itachi, surreptitiously, sighs and makes a face. Sure, Uzumaki-whoever is good looking enough, and maybe (probably) he's one of those hard-working loyal types, but there's really no accounting for taste, is there? Please. Miso is the plainest ramen flavor out there.
"Hey!" He doesn't realize Naruto is talking to him until blondie taps him on the shoulder. He starts, and his left hand flies to the kunai carefully concealed on his belt. Whoops, reflexes. Luckily, Naruto isn't of a high enough caliber to notice his momentary slip. Kakashi, on the other hand...
And he hasn't seen that white-haired pervert ambling around with his Icha Icha today, or on any of his previous visits. Filled with a sudden wash of fond nostalgia (fond of what?), he contemplates making a surprise visit to the apartment. But no, for all his rebellious image, Kakashi is too much of a law-abiding citizen to make the visit worthwhile. Besides, his flat smells like rotting corpses to Itachi's heightened (imagined) senses, and the Uchiha's healthy appreciation for the macabre doesn't cover actual decay.
And there he goes off in his own little world again, just what Deidara hates the most about him; so sorry, I really am paying attention; "Yes?"
For all intents and purposes, Naruto's smile is blinding. "You new around here?" he asks, ever the talker. "I haven't seen you around before. How do you like Konoha?"
Itachi, fingering the forged visitor's pass in his pocket, is tempted to say no, he is most definitely not new; in fact, he is very old around here. Legendary, almost. Instead, he shrugs, and his disguised voice is surprisingly rough. "It's nice." Something more needs to be said. He's not good at social interaction, really, as much as he likes to pretend otherwise. (Acting, all of it.) "Great food. Great ramen." Oh dear, he even sounds like the country hayseed he's portraying.
But Naruto nods enthusiastically. "Yeah, isn't it?" A bowl is placed in front of him, and Itachi winces slightly at the display of gluttony as he manages to slurp up half of the noodles in one go. Manners. Pleasant. And what does little brother Sasuke see in him?
Well. Probably more than Itachi has ever seen in anyone. Depressing thought, that.
The smell of innocence is strong in his nostrils. It's nice, it really is. Refreshing, uplifting... He could breathe it in forever and bathe in it and pretend it's coming from himself. Forget lies and deceit and killing. That would be... heaven.
He doesn't deserve it, but he's selfish. "So do you live here?"
Naruto pauses in his slurping and turns on that thousand-watt grin once more. "Yup! Actually," and he lowers his voice to a conspiratorial undertone, "I'm a ninja here. On a ninja team! And we've been getting lots of missions! One of them was even A-level!"
Itachi looks suitably impressed. "A ninja, really? I've heard a lot of stories about Konoha ninjas. That's part of the reason I'm here." And, funnily enough, it's mostly true.
Instead of asking for the entire reason, Naruto sticks out a hand. "Uzumaki Naruto," he says, "soon-to-be number one ninja in Konoha!" and then, "Believe it!"
Well. That must get annoying rather fast. Itachi reciprocates the gesture, fumbling for the name recorded on his pass. "U-Ukita. Kaneshiro Ukita." The blonde's handshake is firm, confident. Believe it.
"Konoha is a really cool place; I bet you're glad you came, huh?" He gives Itachi no chance to reply, plowing on to the next topic of conversation, like he's having a dialogue with himself. "It's great here, really; people say we have one of the best candy shops on the continent and our dango is to die for." He gives an easy smile. "Or so Anko-san says."
Anko-san. Mitarashi Anko. Ah, brings back old times... "I'll have to try it then," he says easily, disregarding the fact that yes, he has tried it and frequented the candy shop and to be honest neither are nearly as unique as Ichiraku's.
"Oh yeah, in fact, I can walk you over there once I'm done with my ramen!" Judging from the stack of three bowls and the fourth, being consumed rapidly, that's not going to be any time soon. All well and good - maybe he'll find some way to slip out of the conversation before he's forced to traipse across half the village with the risk of his deception being discovered at any moment.
So, deftly, he steers to another subject. "I've never met an actual ninja before," he says lightly, and from the way Naruto's eyes light up at the topic, he knows he has chosen the right direction. "So... What's it like?" He steeples his fingers and rests his chin on his hands, the very picture of attentiveness.
"Well..." Innocence rolls off the boy like waves as he ponders, and Itachi lets the clean scent of it fill his lungs. "It's dangerous when you're on a mission, but when you're not..." He makes a face. "I mean, I don't care what Kakashi-sensei says - training is boring. Even when he has me and Sasuke compete, it's not the same! Although," he adds with a note of pride, "I'm getting stronger, and soon I can even be better than Sasuke!"
Itachi feels another tug of nostalgia at the mention of 'Kakashi-sensei', and the urge to find the ninja doubles, and is doubly ignored. Instead, he chooses to pay more attention to Naruto's other revelations. "Sasuke... is your teammate?" Of course he is. But Naruto doesn't know that he knows.
"Yeah, he's a total bastard... thinks he's so good and all..." Naruto's grumbling follows along the lines of 'stuck-up prick' and 'dunno why Sakura-chan thinks he's so great...' while Itachi's mind races the other direction. Competition, then? They're not best friends? He has managed to watch a few of Sasuke's training sessions, and, actually, it should have been obvious, but it always seemed like friendly rivalry. Especially on Sasuke's part. Odd, that.
Deciding that the topic of Sasuke can wait - some day he's going to catch up to Itachi, regardless - he plasters an affable grin onto his face. "Naruto-kun," the suffix slips easily from his tongue, "you didn't quite answer my question."
The blonde stops mid-complaint and looks up, a lock of golden hair falling over his eyes. "Huh?"
"What's it like being a ninja? What do you... What do you feel? Why do you want to be a ninja?"
From Naruto's comically surprised expression, it is apparent that no one has ever asked him real, soul-searching questions before. After a few seconds of stunned silence, he snaps his mouth shut. "I don't know..." he answers slowly, and his hesitancy to reply shows Itachi that he's not just an impulsive little idiot. "Because... first I wanted to be strong." Itachi nods. Who doesn't? Naruto's next words are more surprising. "And then... on one of the first missions... I met... someone." His speech is halting, as though he is delving into unpleasant, or at least, emotional, memories. "He told me... that his only goal in life was to protect a precious person. That he would do anything to protect that person, and that was why he grew strong and... fought us."
His deep blue eyes met Itachi's own, and if his disguise had not protected him, Itachi would have flinched. The innocence was palpable; he could almost touch it as it hung heavy in the air. "I want to be a ninja so I can protect those who are precious to me."
Precious person, huh? There isn't anyone like that in Itachi's life (Shisui, a small voice murmurs in the back of his mind, but he ignores it.). Probably the closest thing he has to a 'precious person' is his little brother, Sasuke, and if that isn't pathetic and seriously messed up, he doesn't know what is.
Maybe if someone had asked Itachi the questions he had asked Naruto (Why do you want to be a ninja anyway; what idiot would want to be a ninja?) his family would still be alive. And happy. (And traitorous.) And he wouldn't be choked with the acrid smell of betrayal every day, wherever he goes.
Naruto is watching him, watching his reaction, and once again he is grateful for the henge he wears as a mask. It's difficult to think of a reply... merely speaking with the blonde has opened up all kinds of old, almost-healed wounds. But that's what innocence does to him. That's what Deidara-
He's trying as best he can to think of something to say, to validate Naruto's point of view (for valid it is, as much as it is painful). But just as he opens his mouth, his nose is flooded with the scent of noble blood, of old money and older feuds. A Hyuuga?
And yes indeed - there is the Hyuuga branch heir himself, long brown hair, superior air, blank eyes and all. He casts a suspicious glance at Itachi, but luckily, the Byakyugan doesn't work without conscious effort. So all he sees is a shabbily clothed mainland farmer, visiting the village for some reason or another, before his attention turns to Naruto. "Your team is training with us today," he says calmly, his voice laced with the aroma of resentment. "Gai-sensei wanted me to come and get you."
"All right!" For all he has said disparaging constant training, Naruto's grin is wide as he slaps some money onto the counter. "Thanks for the ramen, old man!" he calls to the owner, before hopping down, ready and eager for action. "And nice meeting you, Ukita!"
"Yes," Itachi replies, still a little distracted by their previous conversation. "It was nice meeting you, Naruto-kun. I wish you luck." The rest of his sentence goes unsaid. I wish you luck, until we meet again - because I may or may not have to kill you then.
Naruto, already walking off with Neji, waves cheerily back at him.
"Good luck protecting your precious person, whoever that is," Itachi murmurs after him, and places his own payment on the table. The two bowls of ramen satisfied his craving for the time being, but the conversation opened up a new kind of craving, an invisible, barely noticeable one that nevertheless is already beginning to gnaw at his chest.
His clan was made up of traitors, all of them. And he had been acting under orders, the whole time. It wasn't his fault, it wasn't-
He knows his excuses are as feeble as his henge is becoming; more complicated jutsus tend to fray during periods of intense emotional strain. The clean scent of innocence fades once more, and its vestiges are quickly being corrupted and overpowered by the lingering blood smell. Fear smell. Death smell.
But in the few short minutes that his talk with Naruto lasted, another scent has been added to the mix. Regret.
Ah, he's insane, he's so insane that maybe he will talk to Kakashi for a little bit. For old times sake. And, then again maybe not.
With a sigh, he stands, and smoothes his clothes, and ambles toward the gate. Maybe, wherever he's going when Sasuke finally catches up, it'll smell like innocence.
Then again, you know, probably not.
Well, you take what you can get.
As his steps grow more purposeful and the gate looms even closer, he almost manages to convince himself that the burning in his throat and in his eyes is simply a lingering effect of the chili in the ramen. He shows his pass, walks through the gate, and the bittersweet smell of regret intensifies around him.
This is my first try at really writing Itachi, so constructive criticism is always appreciated. In character? Too weird? Your thoughts are most welcome.