Vanishing Point

He moved through the village with purpose but with no outward sign of urgency. Everything was in place, the sun was sinking in the sky. It was time.

As he passed beyond the main gate and headed toward the river, the sounds of community were slowly replaced by the hum of nature. The birds were taking their last flights before nightfall, and the frogs had begun their solitary conversations. The riverbank pulsed with the chirp of countless crickets.

Life was so beautiful here.

She was already waiting for him. He could sense her presence. A warm, bright glow at the edge of his mind that grew more vivid with each step. How many times had they met at this secluded spot, away from questioning eyes and parental expectations? How many times had they made love? He had lost count. If it was a hundred times it would be a thousand too few for her.

They had officially met at her family's senbei shop. While there were none unknown within the clan, she had not attended the academy. As a daughter of simple merchants her childhood had not been stained by war and endless political ambitions. Each had been a mystery to the other. But from the moment their eyes met he'd been bound to her. They were both older than their years, and understood the workings of the world in a way their peers could not. It was a spiritual connection. One of purity and physical energy and hope. And one with no place and no meaning in the future, thanks to all that had been set in motion by his father's schemes.

Itachi reached the small clearing hidden in the high grass at the river's edge, and regardless of the cold conviction that gripped his heart he forced a smile for her. Deceptively demure in a pale blue yukata, she was posed upon the matted grass, leaning back against a large rock. Her long, blue-black hair was loose, covering the stone like a splash of ink.

"You're late," she said, as a manner of greeting.

"I'm sorry," he returned tonelessly. He could think of nothing more to say.

She sighed dramatically, her lovely mouth making a frown she did not mean. "We are not yet married, and already I am widow to your secret life with the ANBU."

He longed to close his eyes. To run. To forget. But he could not. Instead he pushed himself forward, dropping lightly to the ground beside her. She shifted to give him room to lean against the smooth rock. "Could we not speak of that tonight," he said quietly, settling in.

"As you wish." She wasn't put off by his words. She'd always had a sharp instinct for interpreting his moods - and for using them to get what she wanted. He would not have to placate or explain; such petty victories were never her goal. Leaning against him then, she pressed a kiss to the round of his shoulder, her lips heating the skin beneath his shirt. "Late or not, I am happy you're here."

So began the seduction, and his intentions stabbed at him. He should not allow her to touch him... to trust him... to unknowingly defile herself in these last minutes of her life. He should deal the blow quickly, without lingering to indulge feelings he would never know again. But even as she entwined her fingers with the hand that would bring death, he knew he would not resist and the pain scorched his soul.

"I am sorry," he repeated softly, breathing the words against her hair as he kissed her temple. He looked away, staring at the river and pretending to watch the peaceful current as it glided by.

She reached up with her free hand and unbound his hair, shaking it loose and smoothing the long strands down his chest. She wanted him to relax.

"You may be away for many days at a time," she said slowly, "or distant even when you are near, Itachi, but I do not question you."

He could not fault her intuition. She was sensing his feelings well, sensing the detachment of his spirit although blind to its meaning. On any other night it would have been the perfect thing to say.

Out of respect for her kindness he met her gaze, but before he could speak she added, "Or your love."

Unable to endure another word, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her -– softly at first and then, as he focused his terrible purpose, with a fierce passion.

And it was his passion that she wanted most. On the surface she was gentle and calm, a respectful daughter and clanswoman whose intelligence was exceeded only by her beauty. But beneath the porcelain perfection was a wild creature that tore at his discipline, the one that had lured him to this place more times than he could remember. On this night the creature could tear at him all it wanted; it would serve him now.

Her mouth clinging to his, she fumbled for the end of the obi around her waist. "Please, Itachi," she whispered against his lips. "Please." He helped her unwind the royal blue sash and pulled it free. The folds of the yukata fell open, revealing that the wild creature had worn nothing at all underneath. She smiled at his reaction, but wasted no time as she worked to remove his clothes.

On their knees in the damp grass, he gauged the hour by the darkening sky while she traced warm kisses on the bare skin of his neck and chest. There wasn't much time. Sparing a kiss for the tattoo on his shoulder, she returned to his chest. She moved beyond his stomach then, but he could not bear the intimacy she intended. He gripped her shoulders and pulled her down, rolling until they landed on her back. The yukata, her arms still in the sleeves, was spread beneath them like a blanket. He pinned her wrists as he loomed above her, his hair forming a curtain around her face as it fell and blended in with her own.

She was giggling, excited by the rough and tumble, but the sound burned through his conscience like acid. He silenced her with long, deep kisses that he wished could last forever. She was right not to question him, for despite his resolve, despite what he must do, he did love her. As his hands sought every curve, he was undeniably on fire for her. It was madness, he knew, but for a few minutes he allowed himself to drift in her…the fresh skin, the smooth breasts, the sweet lips, the heat.

They moved together slowly at first, tenderly as they normally did, but he took care to hold his heart in reserve. After some time he leaned on one hand and felt the grass for the discarded obi with the other. He pulled the long blue ribbon teasingly across her breasts, and held still for a moment as he slipped it behind her head, looping it once around her neck. She did not speak, but her dark grey eyes sparked as she realized what he had in mind; it was something the wild creature had asked him to do before but he had refused, worried it would leave telltale marks on her white skin. That was of no concern tonight.

He awkwardly wound the sash around his hands and leaned over her once more, drawing the slack until the obi was tight around her throat. He smiled vaguely to reassure her, but it wasn't necessary; she was lost in sensation and anticipation, and clung to him as he began to move against her again. Although her eyes had drifted closed he avoided looking at her beautiful face, and listened instead to the gradual buildup of sound that vibrated in her throat and then died away, built up and died away as her body moved.

His own release was close upon him, but he waited for the tension to peak within her once more. As she pressed against him, clawing his back, he tightened the sash and she cried out. He did the same, even as he flooded her nerves with chakra. Her eyes flew open to watch the look of pleasure on his face; it was what she always did. This time, however, he met her gaze with Sharingan.

She froze instantly when he took control of her mind. Trapped within his genjutsu, he gave her the illusion they were still making love. As he pulled the obi tighter, the sounds of pleasure in her constricted throat turned to gasps and gurgles. He could not stand it. The noise was filling his head. His body trembled with determination and despair. "I am sorry," he whispered, his voice cracking on the final word.

Itachi had no choice but to steel himself to finish it, to push away every thought and feeling that threatened to shake him from this path, but the noise in his head grew louder. It was ghostly laughter...the distant laughter of children, and a cold and tragic realization crept into his mind. They were his children. The children she would never bear for him. All the Uchiha children who would never be after this night. Because of him.

He choked back tears. Sweaty and panting with desperation, he flexed his hands a final time, stretching the fabric until he heard the sickening grind as he separated the vertebrae in her neck.

The chakra returned to his body and he pulled away. He had never felt emptier as the warm, bright glow faded to black. The spectral laughter echoed in his ears for some time before it too faded away, replaced by the frogs and pulsing crickets.

His fate now sealed, life no longer seemed beautiful.

Cold from shock, Itachi dressed in light from the rising moon. Then he returned his attention to her. As if for burial, he covered her body with the pale blue yukata, wrapping the left side first and then the right. He carefully pulled the obi from her neck and retied it around her waist, then lifted her in his arms. An instant later they had vanished into the darkness.

Itachi made no sound as he landed on the frame of her second-story window. Jumping down to the floor he moved swiftly to the edge of the bed and gently laid her body upon it. He did not look at her, did not allow himself to feel remorse.

She was but the first stain of blood on his hands, and his heart was hardening with every second that ticked by. This small mercy...this useless show of love...would be his last.

He swore it.

A/N: All recognizable characters, locations, and concepts are the property of Masashi Kishimoto. No copyright infringement is intended.