.

i.

Heaven is not what Mikoto expects.

The last thing she remembers is kneeling; her knees dig into the tatami mat, angry red marks on her skin from the pressure against her joints. Her husband kneels beside her, face shadowed, as their eldest presses his katana flush against his neck.

Itachi's hand is shaking. There is an interesting mixture of fear and the sudden urge to wrap her son up and hold him, because she knows he's being manipulated, she knows he doesn't want to do this, but her husband is defeated and stubborn, and her son is holding the blade, and there's nothing more that Mikoto can do.

"Mother. Father," Itachi says. "Forgive me."

The blade sings. Their bodies fall into a heap on the ground.

xXx

.

It is Mikoto's grandmother who greets her, stands at the gaping light streaming around them. "Mikoto my child. How you've grown." Her grandmother smiles and Mikoto sees Shisui standing silently at the light's outer edge, then the rest of their ancestors lined up as if in greeting.

The rest of the clan wander, disembodied and disaffected, floating upwards toward the white.

Mikoto floats, but glances down. Her grandmother smiles, pressing a hand to her shoulder.

"Do not worry, my child. Young Sasuke will be joining us soon."

What? Mikoto turns and snaps her focus downwards, down toward her two sons. Itachi is steeling himself for the kill and her youngest is shaking like a leaf. Her grandmother watches silently.

But he doesn't; he can't. Sasuke is alive and Itachi runs, his shadow disappearing into the fog. Mikoto launches back into the earth after him, the light receding into itself; her husband follows after Sasuke, and for that Mikoto is grateful.

And so it is in the murky hours just before daybreak, she floats above Itachi, wraith-like and invisible, as he kneels at the river's edge. His katana is sheathed; his hands are steeped underwater. She watches as Itachi washes his hands dully, methodically, his eyes blank and his face smudged with dirt and grime. Slowly he sinks his hands further, and Mikoto's heart stills as she watches her eldest start to cry.

.

ii.

A mother watches. Even after death, Mikoto is tethered to the earth by invisible strings, watching and worrying.

Sasuke is battered, traumatized. Though his brother had not touched him, he is wounded far worse than any shinobi she had encountered. She is heartbroken, watching as her youngest is herded off to the orphan dormitories so famous among the nin: Konoha has no shortage of orphans, as children of nin run the risk of losing not one, but both parents. And so it is, the day after the massacre, Sasuke is ushered into one such dormitory, the well-meaning woman smiling kindly and unlocking the door.

"Do you know how to use a stove?" she asks. "Children who can care for themselves have the option of living alone."

Mikoto watches silently as Sasuke struggles to pay attention. His eyes are puffy from crying; she knows he hasn't slept since Itachi told him to run.

It's a small studio apartment; a large room with a small island dividing the kitchen from the rest. There's a bathroom with running water and a small patio by the window. The woman unrolls the sleeping mats, allowing Sasuke to sit. "There is a communal laundry room in the basement," the woman says. "You are also given an allowance for food or clothes. We take the children to the market once a week."

Sasuke kneels on the ground, touching the mat with his fingers. Mikoto knows what he's remembering: how she and Sasuke sometimes went to the market together. Sometimes she bought him a snack to eat while they walked, picking out vegetables and the like.

Her heart aches for him. She steps forward, then presses an invisible hand on Sasuke's back. He doesn't feel it, though, because he stands up and rubs his arms.

"You should know, you may end up getting a roommate," the woman says. She smiles, kindly. "Right now we have enough space so that you have your own place, but in the future, that may not be possible."

More orphans. It pains Mikoto's heart. She watches as her son nods, numb.

"And of course, if you can't cook, we have a communal dining hall on the first floor," the woman says. "The cafeteria isn't much, but it helps. Especially in the early stages."

"Thanks."

Sasuke hugs himself. The woman ruffles his hair. "I'll let you unpack," the woman says. "I'll be checking on you soon."

That night, Sasuke cries in his sleep. Mikoto lies down next to him, covering him in her warmth. Slowly she murmurs into his hair and rubs soothing circles against his back until finally he stops shaking. "Mom."

Mikoto stills. Sasuke breathes softly, the chill of his breath arcing up into the cold air. "Mom..."

"I'm here, Sasuke," Mikoto says, though she knows he can't hear her. Mikoto presses a hand to his forehead. Sasuke sighs softly, then falls back asleep.

xXx

.

In their heaven, there is a small pond with koi fish that swim in placid circles just beneath the surface of the water. Fugaku has taken to watching them, standing under the cherry trees and watching the petals fall onto the water.

Her husband may be content with watching fish, but Mikoto continues to watch the living. It makes Fugaku angry.

"I don't understand why you're so obsessed," Fugaku says. "They'll live and they'll die, and then I'll go and give Itachi what he deserves!"

"And what would that be?" Mikoto is tired. Fugaku glares.

"A kick in the ass and a hard scolding! Hmph! No son of mine lets himself get used!"

"Only my husband would be angry about his son getting used, and not the fact that his son was the one who killed him," Mikoto says. Fugaku mutters under his breath and feeds the fish.

"It's Konoha's fault," Fugaku says. "Itachi was just a pawn."

Mikoto smiles. Fugaku glares.

"What?" Fugaku says.

"I am happy you are not angry with him," Mikoto says. Fugaku mutters and throws a piece of bread into the pond.

xXx

.

Half a world away, her eldest presses a kunai to his wrist. He is pale and there are bruises under his eyes, which are red and swollen from crying. Mikoto's heart stills as a drop of blood forms, beading at the tip.

He can't do it. Mikoto is relieved. She watches as her son shakes and presses his fist against his eyes.

Mikoto had been there when Itachi reported to the Hokage and the council elders the fruits of his mission; she had followed him from the river, hands still damp from washing away the blood, floating soundlessly as he entered the Hokage compound and met them with a sweeping bow. "Is it done?" Danzou asked.

Itachi kept his eyes lowered. "No," Itachi said. The elders stirred and the Hokage stepped forward. There was a hopeful look on his face when he asked, "Then there are survivors?"

"Yes." Itachi's voice was soft. He looked up, bloodshot eyes meeting his. "My brother, Sasuke."

"I thought as much." The Hokage's face was sad; pale. Mikoto watched silently as the elders stirred among themselves, whispering furtively.

"We must dispose of him." Danzou's voice rang out. Mikoto's eyes widened. "You were given explicit orders not to leave any survivors."

"I am a survivor, Danzou-sama." Itachi's eyes were kept carefully on the ground. "Do you wish to dispose of me?"

Mikoto could feel Danzou's fear creep inside him like a vice. Itachi spoke, softly. "I did what you asked of me. Now I ask you to protect my brother; if you do not, I will share all your secrets to all the rival nin across this land, and the hidden villages over. Do not take me lightly."

The Hokage nodded. "We will do as you ask," the Hokage said. Danzou looked up sharply. "Hokage-sama!"

"Enough!" the Hokage said. "It is because of you and your foolishness that this boy has slaughtered his own clan. You will not speak so long as I am here."

Danzou glowered, then stepped back with the rest of the elders. The Hokage knelt, facing Itachi who was staring at the ground.

"How can we help you, Uchiha Itachi?"

Mikoto pressed her hands against him, protectively, while the elders glared.

"Do not tell Sasuke the truth of this," Itachi said. His voice dropped, low. "I would rather he hate me. I cannot bear the thought of him thinking poorly of our clan."

"If that is what you wish." The Hokage stepped forward, touching Itachi on the shoulder. "We will take care of him," the Hokage said. Mikoto shook with rage.

But Itachi, Mikoto thought. Who will take care of you?

.

iii.

Her husband is angry. "All he had to do was listen," he says, but Mikoto knows it is his helplessness that fuels his rage.

The dead do not congregate. There are others, Uchiha that float in, spectral and fleeting, but Fugaku stays near, waiting as Mikoto visits the earth.

To her surprise, Fugaku begins to visit often, watching Sasuke during the Chuunin exams, then watching Itachi as he threatens the elders of the council. "I thought you don't like watching," Mikoto says. Fugaku turns and glares.

"Someone must watch our idiot sons."

xXx

.

In his quest for vengeance, Sasuke forgets to pray at their shrine; around their photographs, candles go unlit, and Mikoto and Fugaku find it more difficult to re-enter their home.

"Has he forgotten us?" Mikoto asks. She tries not to weep and the sky cracks with her tears.

"At least Itachi is still praying," Fugaku says, and they both peer from the clouds as their eldest furtively lights candles and prays to a makeshift shrine.

Madara is still alive. That fact alone makes Fugaku fill with rage. "Coward!" Fugaku says. "Using a child for his own ends!"

"I thought you said Itachi was no child," Mikoto says. Fugaku glares.

Mikoto never liked how Fugaku pushed his eldest; Itachi was too gentle to be nin. Even as a child, he was content to stay at home by Mikoto's side, watching awestruck as Mikoto cooked their meals or set the table. Fugaku used to grab Itachi angrily by the arm and press a kunai into his hands. "That is woman's work, Itachi. You must go and train."

Mikoto and Fugaku used to argue when Itachi was young. "You are pushing him too hard!" Mikoto said. "He's only a child!"

"He is nin; he has already graduated the Academy," Fukgaku said.

"He's seven!" Mikoto said, but Fukagu didn't listen.

One day, Mikoto was washing dishes when she heard the door slide open. It was Itachi. His face was smudged with dirt, and his small arms were covered with bruises. "Itachi?"

"Mom." Itachi's face was still round, not having yet lost the baby fat clinging to his cheeks. Mikoto knelt beside him and looked at his hands. They were caked in dirt and covered in blisters.

"Itachi, you are training too hard. Let me put some balm on these. Here." Slowly, Mikoto led Itachi to the sink and carefully wiped his hands with a warm cloth, then bandaged the blisters up. Behind her, Sasuke toddled forward. "Itachi-nii! Were you training?"

Sasuke tripped and landed on his knees. "Omph!" Sasuke said. His little face crumbled, like he was going to cry.

"Sasuke!" Mikoto turned, but Itachi had beat her to it: he helped his baby brother up, who responded by giving Itachi a huge hug.

"You are a good big brother, Itachi," Mikoto said. She gently took Itachi by the hand. "But we must make sure you are okay as well."

Tears stream down Mikoto's face as she remembers. Her heaven is just a cage. All Mikoto wants to do is to tell Itachi she still loves him, wants to hug Sasuke and keep him safe. She wants to bundle them both up, her foolish children, and hold them in her arms.

But she can't. All she can do is watch quietly, waiting for her sons to die.

Her heaven is just a cage.

xXx

.

iv.

Itachi dies. His soul bleeds out from his body and limps upward, making its way hesitently toward the white.

His ancestors do not line up as they did for Mikoto and the others; they float away, disinterested, so Mikoto stands by her perch and waits as her eldest makes the slow and painful trek upwards.

Mikoto is the first to greet him. Even in death, Itachi's soul is battered, a small, flickering light waning in the dark. So this is the toll you took while you were alive, Mikoto thinks. Slowly she rises as she watches her son stiffen visibly; he is expecting her to reject him.

She throws her arms around him and hugs him, tight. "I've missed you!" Mikoto says.

"Mother..." There are tears in his voice, but Itachi does not cry. Mikoto strokes his hair, proudly.

"You've grown," Mikoto says. They embrace for a long time, and when they finally part, Fugaku is standing, arms crossed and frowning.

"Father." Itachi steps forward. "Father, I--"

The blow that comes stuns Mikoto and Itachi both. Fugaku frowns, disapprovingly.

"Idiot," Fugaku says. Then he reaches over and gives his son a gruff hug. "Welcome back," Fugaku says. They turn and watch as Sasuke is shepherded off by Madara, still unconscious below them.

xXx

.

That night, Mikoto rests by Fugaku, leaning her head against his chest.

"Now we just have one idiot son to worry about," Fugaku says. He presses a hand against Mikoto's head and shifts her weight against his chest, frowning. "Itachi is watching him tonight. I told him it'll only make him angry, but he never listens." Fugaku grunts, fondly. "He takes after his mother that way."

Mikoto smiles a little at her husband's bluntness, then starts to close her eyes.


A/N: Got this idea after reading The Lovely Bones, where the ghost of a dead girl watches the goings-on of her family. I was thinking Sasuke's parents would do the same :)