Disclaimer: The characters, items, places etc of Naruto are property of Masashi Kishimoto. These objects are used without permission for entertainment only, not for making money. No infringement is intended.
By Nanaki Lioness
In the shinobi world, to discover a pregnancy gives a simultaneous burst of joy and fear. You're delighted because the prospect of becoming a parent is the next step in life and therefore welcomed, but you also can't sleep at night because you worry for the life your child will lead.
I have no time to think about this while in the late stages of labour, screaming and bucking and wishing to be murdered if only it will end the pain. Kunoichi have high pain thresholds, the hospital says. They like having kunoichi in instead of civilians because they handle childbirth easily.
Perhaps I am weak, or perhaps my pain is different- either way I scream like a civilian and keep my eyes closed for the duration because opening them is impossible. Time drifts by but I cannot comprehend it, so when my child is finally born I am stunned that five hours have passed.
A midwife grabs my top and opens it without my sanction, putting the tiny squalling baby onto my bare chest. "You have a son," she tells me.
I look down at the mess of black hair on my son's- my son! - head, running a hand over it despite the knotted mess it is thanks to his home for the last nine months, slick with fluid and blood. He's still beautiful. His eyes are scrunched close as he snuffles around on my chest- instinct I didn't even know I possessed causes me to swiftly wrap my arms around him should he fall.
"Itachi," I say softly, testing the name Fugaku and I chose if we had a boy. "Itachi," I whisper again, unable to believe that he's here, he's mine, he's real. "Itachi. Itachi. Itachi!"
The feeling I had only a few minutes ago is swept away. I am now glad I wasn't murdered, as I wouldn't be here to experience this incredible moment- nothing I have ever done is as important as this. I am a mother and this is my son. Itachi. Uchiha Itachi.
I learn that Uchiha Itachi has eyes like mine. He stares up at me, black orbs still slightly narrowed as with newborns, as he sits in my arms wrapped in a blanket. He is still coated in unsavoury fluid, but it is common practise not to bathe newborns immediately after they are born. I don't question it, nor do I feel I could let him out of my sight right now. I am tired and pained, lying in the bed with little energy but unable to sleep.
If I sleep, I am not watching my child. If I don't watch my child, something could happen to him. He could die. I might not wake up to his cry for food, so he might starve. Someone might steal him- the thought sends shivers down my spine. So I stay awake, drifting lightly until my body realises it has betrayed my wants and startles awake, only to find Itachi blissfully asleep and quiet. Panic washes over me and I have to check he is actually breathing- this is a ritual I learn I will repeat many, many times.
Fugaku arrives the moment visiting hours commence, covered in sweat and blood as though he has just finished a mission. Apparently he has been sitting in the waiting room for an hour and a half, eager to meet his child.
"We have a son," I tell him, and his face lights up in a way I had never expected.
"A son," he repeats, leaning over the plastic hospital cot and lowering one hand onto Itachi's dark head of hair. "Itachi."
"He has my eyes," I mutter, already being snatched by sleep. Fugaku doesn't answer and lets me rest, taking over the guarding of our precious child. I still don't sleep soundly- even though Fugaku is Itachi's father, there is a small part of me that tells me only I can protect him in the way a mother can.
Itachi is a quiet baby. He cries only when he needs something and is silent and observant otherwise, dark eyes attempting to focus on our faces. Newborns can't see very far, we were told, so when we can we lean closer to him.
"He will do us proud," Fugaku tells me when we bring him home from the hospital, sitting proudly on his knees in the kitchen by the table with Itachi curled up in his arms. "An heir to the Uchiha name. I will teach him well."
Fugaku means that he will teach Itachi how to be a good shinobi, and I am filled with a sudden sense of dread. This is my child- my baby! I have only just been given him and already Fugaku speaks in code of handing him over to the battlefield. I have the intense desire to snatch my son and put him back inside me, where I can keep him safe and free of pain.
Two months on, I have realised being a mother is harder than I imagined. The idea of being responsible for a tiny child, dependant entirely on you to live, is intense and overwhelming. I have taken to wearing a sling and carrying him around with me, because I can't bear to leave him alone in his cot as I leave the room. He coos with delight and gives me a smile when I smile at him- he is growing well, and still hasn't died in his sleep as I expect every night.
The smiles make it worth it. The nights where he won't latch to my breast yet screams in hunger, the nights where he won't settle until three am, the nights where I sit next to his cot and silently beg him not to die as I watch him- the smiles at me make every single one of those horrible things worth it. I have fallen into the role of being a mother effortlessly, and cannot imagine my life as a kunoichi before.
Six months pass, and I am asked if I shall be returning to service. I decline- Itachi still needs me, I tell them, but the bond is equally strong the other way around.
He is still alive and he is thriving. I am finally getting a few nights of more rested sleep as he slowly weans himself off of his night time feed. He is the textbook definition of an easy baby, but I would still love him fiercely if he wasn't. He is rolling over and also beginning to laugh. I already miss the tiny newborn that I cradled in the hospital after he was born.
Itachi grows up so quickly that I almost miss it. By his first birthday he is already walking, smiling up at me as I give him a small slice of birthday cake I made especially for him. I forgo the candle- the idea of fire so close to my child, even if he is an Uchiha, makes me shudder.
He plays with the cake more than he eats it, most of the icing ending up in his black hair. I'm surprised by how straight it is- not a single wisp of curl, despite my own hair having a slight wave to it. His cousin Shisui's hair is curly- I recall him looking very cute at Itachi's age, but Itachi is cuter. I am biased, but I don't care. He is my child.
"Mama," he says as he holds a piece of mangled cake out to me. Itachi's first word was Dada, perhaps fuelled by the fact Fugaku isn't around much, but I wasn't disappointed. He followed it up with Mama less than a week later, and that is what I hear most of the time now.
"Thank you baby," I tell him with a smile as I politely take the cake crumbs from him. He returns to smashing his hands into the sponge, and I can't help but smile as I watch him despite the mess I will have to clean up.
The toddler years merge into the young childhood years seamlessly and before I know it, Itachi has become a person in his own right. He will always be my child but he has his own personality and independence now.
Fugaku and I have discussed having another child. I desperately miss the newborn baby Itachi once was and while it feels a little like I am replacing him, I still want to experience it again. Fugaku reminds me of the morning sickness, of the sleepless nights, of the paranoia- I smile and say that it's worth it. I don't think he understands, but he doesn't deny me either.
I regret this discussion shortly after, when we are all pulled from our sleep by chaos and havoc. A member of ANBU wakes up to inform us the village has been attacked by Kyuubi, and Fugaku is needed on the battlefield. The Yondaime is there and has requested assistance.
Fugaku is changed and racing down the hall in mere moments, halting outside Itachi's door. He is awake and sitting up in bed, eyes wide and frightened. He is four. He is still a tiny child. I am seconds behind my husband, wondering what he is doing when he enters Itachi's room and sweeps him out of the bed into his arms.
"Fugaku?" I question as he glides past me without a word. "What are you doing?"
"It's time Itachi learnt about the shinobi way," Fugaku says grimly, as though he has no choice in this matter. Itachi is leaning sleepily against his shoulder, eyes confused but seemingly content in his father's arms. He has no comprehension of the words that have been spoken.
My world, however, has just come to a grinding halt. With a cry of terror I reach out for Itachi, attempting to snatch him from my husband's arms.
"He's still a baby!" I screech at him as Fugaku blocks me easily. "He's a baby! My baby! You can't take him out there!"
"Mikoto!" He snaps at me. "Listen to yourself, woman! Itachi is a shinobi child and this is the perfect opportunity to show him the world he will be living in!"
"But he's a child!" I try again, already sensing this argument is hopeless but still having to try, to Itachi's sake. He's beginning to wake up now, frowning at our raised voices worriedly.
"And this is war," Fugaku tells me bluntly before he's out the door, carrying my baby with him. I scream for him to stop and chase him down the path, the uneven, sharp stone floor cold on my bare feet. I don't notice it- I only see my son being taken away.
"Fugaku!" I call desperately. "Fugaku!"
He is already gone. I stop running, standing in the middle of the street in my nightdress, staring up at the sky. The air smells of blood. It's a scent I know all too well, and my child is about to become immersed in it.
I fall to my knees and cover my head with my hands, sobbing harshly. I feel disconnected from reality in that moment- all I can think about is my son, even if my feet are now bleeding and my knees stinging. I can't feel anything except the quickened beat of my heart and petrifying mental agony.
When Fugaku finally returns home with Itachi I have managed to get back inside our home. I'm sitting on the floor of the hallway, dried blood on the floorboards from my unattended feet, staring into nothingness. My mind has shut itself down, unable to feel or think until the door opens and they walk in safe.
Fugaku sets Itachi on the floor and he runs straight for me, diving into my arms with huge, terrifying sobs that set me immediately off kilter. This is the child that cried only when he had to whilst growing up- now he's in pieces, burying his head in my nightdress and attempting to burrow himself into me. Once again I want to let him back inside of me just like I did all those years ago, to keep him safe and protect him.
"Mama," he cries. "Mama."
I glare up at Fugaku, hoping for an explanation. Fugaku's face is grim and he sighs, looking down at the floor. He has spotted the blood from my feet, but says nothing.
"The Yondaime has passed," he tells me quietly, stealing the breath from my throat. "It's carnage out there."
"And you took Itachi to see that?" I hiss in anger.
"He learnt a valuable lesson today, Mikoto," Fugaku disagrees. "Put him back to bed and come when you are cleaned up."
He's referring to my bloody feet but that is the least of my worries. Fugaku is nonplussed by Itachi's current state, but that doesn't mean I am. I take him to his room and sing to him, stroking his hair and feeling nothing but guilt as he stares up at me with wide, scared eyes.
"I didn't like it," he whispers to me. "I don't like war, Mama."
"I don't like it either baby," I say soothingly as I brush his hair back out of his eyes and try not to fall to pieces. His hair is already beginning to get long, and he refuses to let me cut it. I want to tell him that he won't ever have to see anything like that again, but I can't lie to him. Instead I keep brushing my hand through his hair, hoping my presence is enough of a comfort for him to ward off the nightmares he now may have.
I decide in that moment that I don't want any more children. I can't handle this feeling anymore- it's too intense, and it's going to destroy me. I never thought it was possible to love this much, but I was wrong, and it hurts.
A scant month later I find out I am carrying another child. I ignored the morning sickness to begin with, telling myself I had food poisoning, but I knew the truth. I now need to learn how to cope with another baby in my life- another life to love so dearly that it pains me, yet fills me with joy.
Itachi has been subdued since that night. Fugaku and I are barely speaking. Our relationship has been damaged, just like Itachi's mind. He wakes up screaming, his mind aflame with visions of blood and corpses, and it's me that rushes to his side and tries to calm him enough that he can sleep again. I won't, though. I retreat back to my own bed when he finally settles and stare at the ceiling, feeling like a failure of a mother because my son is in pain and I can't help him.
Sasuke comes into the world screaming almost as much as I did in labour- he's handed to me and I feel that same joyous moment I did at Itachi's birth. Itachi is waiting in the hall with Fugaku, who has managed to be present this time, both of them eager to meet the new member of the family. A nurse goes to fetch them and it's Itachi that enters first, running to my bedside and peering down inquisitively at his little brother.
"His name is Sasuke," I whisper to him proudly. "You're a big brother now, Itachi."
Itachi stares down at Sasuke and puts one tentative hand out to his head. He, too, has dark hair just like Itachi did. "Hello Sasuke," he says softly. "I'm going to protect you from war."
The words are like a punch in the stomach and I choke, sobbing helplessly before I can stop myself. Fugaku tells Itachi the birth has overwhelmed me and takes him out the room, saying I need to rest. I'm left with Sasuke, who is calmer than he was, content on my chest and beginning to open his eyes to look up at me.
His eyes are also like mine, with a touch of Fugaku's. He's just as beautiful as his older brother.
Sasuke's childhood passes just as quickly as Itachi's, if not quicker now I have two children to keep me occupied. Sasuke hits his milestones behind Itachi, but Itachi is shaping up to be a genius so that's no surprise. It doesn't worry me- I love my children equally regardless.
Itachi takes to being a big brother effortlessly. He was invaluable in the early months, helping me in any way he could despite his young age, and as Sasuke grows the bond they share is almost magic to watch. Sasuke's first word is 'chi' in reference to his brother, and I have to leave the room to cry in sheer joy at how proud I am to be who I am.
Fugaku and I have a better relationship than we did, but that night when the Yondaime died broke a part of our marriage that's never been recovered. Itachi speaks of pacifism, but still trains regimentally and becomes the top of his class. I look at him and wonder where his childhood went, because he's not much of a child anymore.
Sasuke, though. Sasuke is still a baby, smiling with no cares in the world. I will give anything- anything - to keep it that way for as long as I can. I am jaded- I now recognise I must lose him like I have Itachi, one day.
Itachi comes home when he is eight with dead eyes, the Sharingan spinning in them as he struggles to control the newfound power. I make him dinner as he stares into space, blinking over and over and looking dazed.
He won't tell me about the mission. He never does. I don't ask him about it as I put food in front of him, turning my back to wash up and hide myself from the new piece of evidence that Itachi is no longer my baby boy. That's Sasuke's role now.
"It hurts," he hisses so softly that I can barely hear him over the running water of the tap. His voice causes me to shudder and I turn the tap off, spinning around and trying to shield the heartbreak in my eyes.
Itachi's own orbs, now tainted by red, look up at me laced with tears and confusion. The Sharingan still whirs within them before it finally fades and the tears fall soundlessly. In seconds I am across the room and on my knees, gathering him in my arms and holding him so tightly he winces in pain. He's too big to fit back inside me, but the feeling is once again present.
"It will pass," I promise him in a whisper as he finally stops being stiff and wraps his arms around me. "I promise, baby. It will pass."
As Sasuke grows more he adores his brother. Itachi adores him equally, and they can often be found playing together when Sasuke is old enough despite the age difference. Itachi is caring and gentle with his sibling, protecting him from the smallest danger. It gives me great comfort to know I'm not the only one watching out for him.
Until Itachi is thirteen.
Itachi has already been enrolled into ANBU on Fugaku's wishes, and against my own. We fight in secret about it, but Fugaku's word is final and Itachi enters and is marked with the tattoo on his arm that distinguishes him as part of Konoha's elite. I'm the one that tends to the damaged and bloody skin, hearing him hiss lightly through his teeth but still stay strong as I change the dressing.
Things between Itachi and Fugaku are strained- I always wondered if it was because Itachi was being forced to walk a shinobi path when he has made it no secret that he dislikes war and fighting. Either way I'm not too worried about their bond- Itachi is entering a difficult age, too- until Itachi begins to distance himself from Sasuke.
Sasuke is Itachi's world, and Itachi is Sasuke's. When I see Itachi shooing his sibling away I know something is terribly wrong with my child, but he won't ever tell me about it now. He's too old, too cynical, too proud. I am just his mother. It isn't my place to know.
When Shisui dies, I know this is the beginning of the end. Itachi has already retreated so far into himself we rarely see him, so it's no surprise when this trend continues with Shisui's suicide. As badly as I want to knock on the closed bedroom door some nights and ask if he'd like to talk to me, I know I will receive no reply. Instead I channel my energy into Sasuke, who thankfully has been spared witnessing war just as Itachi wanted. I am still frightened for Itachi however- something is so terribly wrong, and I just can't see what it is. He won't allow me to.
It isn't long after that I find out what it is. He comes late one night, when Sasuke is still absent at school training to catch up to the shadow of his sibling. He's dressed differently and has a sword sheathed in his back, and I know immediately why he is here. He is my child. I understand him, even if he wishes I didn't.
He slays Fugaku first, who puts up a fight. I don't- I stay seated on the floor, closing my eyes at the sickening thud of Fugaku's body as it hits the floor swiftly. I open my eyes and look into Itachi's, a mirror of my own, and offer him the faintest of smiles. I don't want to die, but I now at least have the answer to what's been troubling my son.
"Continue taking care of Sasuke," I tell him as he raises the sword. He hesitates for a fraction of a second, stopping to reply before he completes his job.
"I will," he whispers, and it's the last thing I hear before the sword connects with my chest- the same place that he was put when he was born, thirteen years ago.