Him and Shisui are standing near the riverbank's side. Itachi takes note that his cousin is a good four inches taller than him, and dimly wonders if this is what inferiority feels like.
The water is shining in the moonlight, reflecting specks of light, which ripple as the night-chill breeze sweeps through the trees and rests feather light touches on their skin. Itachi inwardly prays that his face does not betray the truth.
"Oi," Shisui lifts one dark eyebrow and grins, "didn't your father want you at that council meeting tonight?"
He doesn't answer.
"Thought so. Man, I don't get it. I'd kill to be as good as you, you know?" A laugh.
(He wants to wince.)
"It… I mean… It isn't about perfection, or getting a stupid mission done right. It-it's just the recognition that comes with it." Shisui pauses to smile again, staring at the sky, and Itachi ignores the fact that his expression is heartbreakingly similar to Sasuke's. "But I'm glad you're still humbled enough to interact with such a lowly Shinobi, mister ANBU-captain. Not tha-"
"Shisui." His cousin (friendfriendfriend) turns to look him in the eye. "The elders have assigned me a mission of extreme importance. To preserve peace in Konoha." Steel yourself. "I'm to wipe out our clan."
Shisui's face turns into one of utter surprise a second before Itachi turns on his Sharingan and traps him in the most potent genjutsu he can muster.
The note's planted in his room already. There is no turning back.
"So, please. Consider this a mercy killing."
And the man he has often considered an older brother jumps into the freezing water to drown himself.
(Itachi's crimson eyes warp into sinister black pinwheels.)
the river flows
He waits until the full moon is out, grim and silver, to begin. It is not hard. He simply knocks on the front door of one of the buildings, and waits.
A graying man answers, looking genuinely surprised.
"Itachi? What brings you he-"
The mute whistle of the kunai sounds louder than usual as it rings through the air and pierces one of his uncle's vital points.
The first body hits the floor.
His aunt comes down to see what the fuss is about, and is rewarded with three shuriken to the stomach. Two cousins, next.
He walks back out into the road, dirt drifting around him, waiting, wishing that he didn't have to do this. But the hardest part has yet to come. He knows.
(His little brother is late today of all days.)
His sword is drawn.
They all come at him, and they are all sliced down in one perfect arc of the blade. His new Sharingan is turned on, blazing. The screams echo. The red splashes. His face, it betrays nothing. Orderly chaos. Of sorts.
The hollow, twisted feeling he had felt every time he lied to his parents for the past few weeks returns hundredfold. But he deserves it.
(God, he feels so filthy dirty low.)
The bodies are piling, strewn in the compound streets, pale, dark eyes accusing and mouths curved in the frown of death, and he knows in the deepest part of his blackening heart that he will deserve everything and anything that Hell can throw at him after this is over.
He reaches his own home, not registering the fact that his whole clan is almost eradicated.
And then he hears them.
His sharp, well-trained ears pick up the sound of hurried footsteps. Small, but there.
Concentrating chakra into the soles of his feet, he almost flickers up to top of the high, wooden pole to find his brother. Searching, looking, scouting…
There. Right there.
Sasuke is racing down the road; brow furrowed, about to turn the corner, about to see the massacre that was shed by the hands of his beloved elder sibling, his aniki. His head turns at one point, right up at the moon that is backdropping Itachi's crouched form, and time seems to slow. Itachi flickers away before he can get a second look.
He reaches his home, finding his parents in The Room, the one where so many stories were told and so many stitches in their tense family were sewn up. Father is standing proudly, eyes accusing, Mother gazing at her own son in slight fear but determined, such a strong-willed women she once was. Facing fate.
He speaks for the first time in hours, pouring any indifference he has left into it. "You know why I'm here."
Mother clutches a tight fist to her chest. "Don't you hurt Sasuke. Don't you dare touch my son."
He re-draws his sword.
Father braces himself. Mother steps up, and takes Father's hand in hers.
"We'll always love you," her voice whispers, so thin and fragile, spider web threads.
(There's more running footsteps; Sasuke's in the house.)
Racing forward, he cuts right through his parents, the ones that praised and raised him, a flash of silver slicing through them as if they are the paper fans on their backs.
Twin thumps. Blood, spreading in a ghostly pool, blood on Mother's lips, pretty face dim, blood growing on Father's robes, spread over Mother as final marital protection, blood in Itachi's redredred eyes, half-mast in what appears to be apathy but what is really shame.
(Sasuke's at the door, touching the handle, hesitating out of fear. He has seen enough tonight.)
Itachi's hand shakes minutely around the hilt of the blade. He doesn't know if he can bring himself to do this. Killing Mother and Father was hard, yes, as was the rest of his family, his flesh and blood, but Sasuke is different.
Sasuke is the one that cares about him, not his grades or his accomplishments or his duties, but just him. He always smiles, always tries hard, refuses to give up, resolute, stubborn, naïve, so happy. So young, and God does Itachi care about him.
He steps into the shadows.
The door is pushed open, and his younger bother stumbles inside. Terrified.
He waits a moment, and then steps out.
He couldn't do it.
He managed to kill his heart his mother his father his clan but not Sasuke. Not his baby brother.
His first failure. Just like Sasuke always wanted.
That might be the reason he lets the tears fall as he flees.
He goes to Sarutobi first. Knocks twice on the window and waits. Steels himself again.
The Hokage is there in a flash, and Itachi knows he was waiting.
(He knew I would fail.)
"Hokage-sama," he greets, voice dead as his eyes, giving a sweeping bow.
The man shakes his head and sits behind his desk so that he can cradle his face in his hands. "Did you complete the… the mission?"
A hopeful look. "Then…?"
"My brother. Sasuke."
"I figured as much." Sarutobi shakes his head harshly. His words run like liquid fire. "I… I instructed them, told them not to… and they did. And to make you… to your own family…"
Itachi stares up sharply. "The peace of Konoha has no price." A pause. "…Don't tell the village the truth. Especially not Sasuke."
"If that's what you wish."
He nods, and walks back towards the open window again, the cool breeze tickling his face, just like the night he made Shisui kill himself.
"Please… Take care of him."
"Of course." The Hokage turns in his seat, unsurprised to see that the pale boy has already disappeared into the dark. "But who will take care of you?"
(resentment is an uglyugly thing)
have made sure to leave an opening for him at the village gate, where no guards will be there to intercept.
He does not turn back for a final look at his home, does not cry, does not break down and race back to Sasuke to sob out the truth.
His younger brother will kill him one day, after all.
Without a second thought, he steps over the border and pulls his hiatae from his head. Staring at his dark, pit-like eyes in the reflection it casts, a kunai is yanked out from his pack.
(Over the horizon, the burning red sun begins to rise.)
His eyes flash scarlet as he slashes through the leaf symbol.