Disclaimer: Not mine, don't want it, draw more Hyuuga Neji, Kishimoto.
Notes: I was combing through FF and this hit me like a bolt of lightning, blah blah blah, insert cliché here. Anyway, the muse that was fueling my multichapter Inuzuka-are-Hokage-yakuza-and-the-Akatsuki-is-a-legal-business fic took a long break. So I don't know if I'll ever post that one. But this thing is just a gigantic oneshot that had to come out.
Without further ado, Itachi and Hana: a different scenario.
When he looks up there's nothing in the dark hollows where his eyes should be; nor in his face. No recognition, no focus, no light. And that makes sense, really, because the truth is, Uchiha Itachi has been blind for a year and a half. Konoha hunter-nin fought him until he submitted, exhausted and finally indifferent. The Akatsuki have been disbanded long ago. Pein gone, Madara gone, Sasuke nowhere to be found – but Itachi is here. He's here, alive and sitting calmly in a hospital bed, and isn't that the real irony, that this prodigal son came home before the other one?
If Itachi could see his surroundings, they would not have looked familiar. The walls are a light yellow that carries the warmth of sunlight with it, not the toneless white that used to face patients day in and day out. This is a new building, constructed over the old Konoha Hospital. He wasn't here to see the village demolished, and he certainly won't see it as it is now, rebuilt. Everything plotted out as it had once been, with the exception of the Hokage's office and the ANBU compound. Oh, and the Uchiha compound. That street is gone, and all its secrets and shrines with it. The village elders all agreed on it unanimously. In place of all the cenotaphs, the empty houses, the ghosts, the village has one enormous cenotaph, an obelisk inscribed with only the words: We Remember.
And while We Remember, We will punish what criminals we can. Itachi's taciturn nature and the last dregs of pride have led him to resolve not to reveal any part of his mission. If they tell him that Sasuke has eclipsed him in the Bingo Book, that Sasuke may know the truth, his mouth will only tip in a slight smile. If they knew the truth, they wouldn't need him, and as long as they don't have Sasuke and Itachi doesn't speak, they won't be any wiser. Because none of them deserve to know. He's done terrible things for this village, but that was the last time, and never again. He swears it to himself, quietly, and wonders why it should matter to him any longer. Anko and Ibiki, hating him and using him as a test subject for new and horrifying questioning methods, wonder about the same thing.
Itachi cannot see their old, familiar, contemptuous faces, because no one will restore his eyes. When he is first brought in, they have to give him medical attention so that he will be fit for extended interrogation. No one, however, thinks that he merits the courtesy of a doctor, despite the fact that his wounds would have challenged the skills of even the Fifth's talented apprentice.
Instead, they send Inuzuka Hana.
He vaguely remembers her face, but it's been more than a decade since he last saw her. Large, expressive, dark eyes, with an intent steadiness unmatched by any other pair he's seen in his life.
He raises his head at the sound of her laughter, which is clear like water running smoothly over rocks; it doesn't matter if she laughs in bitterness or mockery or hatred.
"You do know that I'm a veterinarian, not a human doctor."
He holds his silence while she moves around in the room, gathering all the tools and materials she needs, making preparations to treat his injuries. Her scent brushes over him. It's something that he has never understood completely, but it used to intrigue him. She doesn't smell like dog kennels or sweat, or whatever one would expect of an Inuzuka. Some people speak of smelling summer on another person. Hana smells like fall.
She gets to work, and then he spoils it, now-useless muscles twitching to flick his gaze to her face, to visualize a small furrow between the brows, a lip twisted to the side because of the teeth biting the inside of a cheek in concentration.
"You never made full-jounin status, Hana?"
He listens, and hears her breath catch almost imperceptibly. She can respond in a variety of ways to the pointless, barbed query – "I never made traitor, either," being a nice, pertinent retort. A defensive, "That's right, I didn't," would also serve the purpose.
Instead, she says, "Thank goodness, too, or they'd have drafted me into ANBU." Unbelievably, there's a smile in her voice. It softens out, blurs back into the mildly melancholic tone that is universally accepted as borderline-safe for speaking with Ibiki's subjects.
If her tone is safe, though, her next words decidedly are not. "Listen, Itachi, whatever you fought for, it's gone. It's over. I don't know why you murdered your family, but not even a tatami mat has survived from the Uchiha compound. If you can make your peace at all before you die, you should try. Let go of your grudges. I know I don't hold any grudge against you, not now…"
Not now that he can do nothing to hurt anyone she cares about. "I understand."
Itachi has a very defined sense of personal space, and Hana has remembered that up until this point. When a sudden touch grazes his cheekbone, he suppresses the desire to move away. But it's only to push back his excessively long bangs, so that she can tend to the vicious cut slanting down the side of his face.
"Do you?" Hana asks soberly.
He feels a smile glide like quicksilver over his lips. Itachi's greatest grudge is against himself, and it stares back at him with the stunned, hurt eyes of his little brother.
Hana visits him once a day. Then it's once every three days. Once a week. Once every ten days.
Then, out of the blue, she drops in two days after her last visit.
"They'll start using harsher methods if you don't comply," she tells him. He hears her opening the window. A breeze slithers in, tickling the back of his hands, which lie on top of the blanket that drapes over his lap. The penultimate Uchiha, the great invalid - let the mighty look upon him and despair. Itachi has discovered something that in other people and in larger doses, would be called a sense of humor.
He lets the fresh air wash over his skin, tipping his head back slightly.
"You know, even though you can't see anything, other people can see you." Hana sounds amused.
He decides to speak. After all, all his hours outside of interrogation are idle; why not indulge in idle conversation? "I know."
"You don't mind looking like you're enjoying yourself?"
Itachi doesn't have a single expressive bone in his body, but even a slight shift in his facial muscles convey enough – Do I care? – to make Hana laugh. She often laughs at him, somehow. It's as if she finds his reactions diverting.
"Don't push them too far," she warns. "In particular, don't let them ruin your hands. I don't want to have to spoon-feed you. And before you ask, no one else would do it."
He turns his face to the window. "A word from you to Ibiki will have more impact than a word from me, I'm sure."
"On second thought, it'll be entertaining to see you eat."
On this occasion, he can't appreciate her benign malice.
"What if I told you that your execution was tomorrow?"
The metal spoon bumps into the front of his teeth. She is actually trying to feed him. Itachi turns his head from her.
"Now you have miso soup in your hair. Excellent. Now, what do you say to dying tomorrow?" The woman seems to delight in his irritation.
"Mitarashi Anko assures me otherwise." Many more hours of pain, were the callous, jovial words. My, but you've got a strong constitution, Itachi-chan. Hana fixed you up all right, didn't she?
"It's a hypothetical question."
She has much more patience than he does; with an inward sigh, he opens his mouth and accepts the spoonful. Only after he swallows does he reply. "It's inconsequential."
"Aren't you curious?" Hana pauses, putting phrases together in her mind. "A man, when he dies, sometimes changes right before the final moment. In our profession, there isn't much time to think it over. Either a visceral loyalty to comrades impels a suicidal, sacrificial act that leaves no time for further consideration, or…something unexpected takes you out. Here, you wouldn't be dying for anyone other than yourself, Itachi."
"I have no choice in the matter." Just how does she expect he would react?
"Oh, so you're part of that school. Stoicism." Her hair rustles against the back of her clothes; he surmises that she's nodding slowly, overanalyzing his answer.
Well, what if? If he was slated to die the next day, his behavior might undergo subtle differences. Differences like giving in to the whim to prod Hana verbally, to gauge her reactions. "You used to speak more intelligently than this, Hana."
He hears her set down the bowl and the spoon. "I never used to speak at all, except when I asked how a technique was done. At any rate, why would that matter to you?" A valid retort, since he rarely bothers to comment on his own initiative.
"Your unintelligence depresses me."
Her fingers fist his long black hair and shove his head away in a single, rough motion. It's a natural, companionable gesture, all the wordless offense notwithstanding. His bangs slide forward, shadowing his face. For one, fleeting instant, Itachi loses control over the emotions he guards so closely -
His head turns when she sweeps into the room and drops into the chair beside the bed. If he still wanted to fool himself, he'd chalk it down to politeness, common courtesy bred into him since childhood. But he's past that stage, so he concedes that he has come to anticipate her visits with two parts amusement and five parts wariness.
"Your brother, Sasuke, is back."
He says nothing, but the back of his hands tense, the muscles flexing involuntarily.
"I should say, he's back but he's almost dead." Hana exhales in a long, slow breath. "They might as well be hauling in his body. I'm sorry," she says, not as an afterthought, but as she realizes how bluntly she delivered the news. She has no need to apologize to him.
"There's something else," she says. "The Uzumaki kid sent word to the Hokage concerning a few things he heard from Sasuke before the fight. Apparently, Sasuke has been laboring under the impression that you were forced to slaughter the Uchiha."
Itachi feels her sympathy, apprehension, and expectation push on him from all sides, and comes to his own, belated conclusion about Hana, Anko, Ibiki, and their cunning methodology. They didn't send you to heal me. They sent you to break me.
"Is it true? Itachi, is it true?"
And if it is? Will she fight tooth and nail for him, as she would for her family and for Konoha?
Why do you have to know? You don't deserve to know.
"Itachi, if you don't tell me, you could very well be sentenced to death a week from now. This is not hypothetical." Her words are clipped, urgent. "Sasuke believes it. If you say it's true, if you say it on oath…"
"Then everyone will believe me and all will be well?"
He can't see her flinch, but he can hear it in the lash of her voice. "Do something!"
"What would you have me do?" he asks evenly.
It infuriates her. "I don't know! But I would believe you. I don't know if that matters to you – if it matters at all. It matters to me. Is it true?"
He has reached for her; months of darkness and patience have finally improved his hearing, to the point that he finds her at once. His hand falls on a bare shoulder. Hana is warm and still under his touch.
A wry expression forms on his face; he has a feeling that his answer won't satisfy her, but it'll have to suffice.
"It matters to me."
Uchiha Itachi dies the morning his brother wakes. Sasuke regains consciousness with much less grace, ripping at the bandages that swath his eyes, cursing and shuddering with a nightmare that has followed him into the daytime. In a moment, his former teammates will dash into the room, full of fury and accusations and tearful greetings. In a moment, he will look into their faces, disbelieving, still in shock.
There is a breath between that moment and this, when the door opens, when someone walks in with soundless steps.
"Uchiha Sasuke?" Her voice is quiet, measured, and steady. She is like someone reading a cenotaph scribed with names that are far-removed from her, beyond sorrow or rage. But then Sasuke tilts his head, turning the sound over in his mind. No, she is not in tears, but neither is she numb with grief. There is a peace and tranquility in the syllables that flow gently from her mouth.
"Your brother, Itachi, died this morning. I thought you should know."
It has to be a lie. "Who are you?" Sasuke tears off the last shreds of gauze over his eyes and snaps them open, ignoring the pain of sudden light.
The door is ajar, but the speaker is gone.
There is no such thing as the Uchiha compound. That street is gone, as if it never was, and all its secrets and shrines are gone, too. In place of all the cenotaphs, the empty houses, the ghosts, the village has one enormous cenotaph, an obelisk inscribed with only the words: We Remember.