A/N: IT'S MY LAST DAY OF PSYCH LAB, YES!!!! I spent my last bout of academic slavery on...Uchihas. This is a sort of mashup of chronological character studies for the eight Uchiha we know anything significant about.
(There are no pairings in this. Just saying.)
(Except there maybe kind of sort of SLIGHTLY might be a little bit of ItaShi, which can be easily read as gen.)
Madara's breaking came with the sound of hail. It skittered across the frozen landscape, drew hairline cracks in the architecture of the world, and brought with it the cold and the fury that Izuna had hoped never to feel again, standing behind his brother on the battlefield as the wind stripped the flesh from their bones. Starvation had come to the Uchiha on silent feet, but Madara was a formidable enemy even to the forces of nature, and he turned it away with the same ruthless efficiency he brought to everything else.
He was gone for weeks at a time. Sometimes Izuna caught rumors of what he had done—pillaged a farm in the Grass Country, stormed a castle at the mouth of the Nakano River—but in the end none of that mattered, because he came home with food. And the clan crowded around him, their slender messiah with his hair full of ice and his arms full of salvation, and took, and took, and took.
No one ever bothered to give anything to Madara, and this was what Izuna took it upon himself to do. On the coldest night of the year, he ladled clear soup into Madara's mouth, watching helplessly as he regurgitated it and said, "No more, no more," unable to keep anything else down at that intense level of malnourishment. He had distributed the last bit of food among the clan's elders. It was clear that he had been slowly weaning himself of sustenance in order to provide for the others.
"No more," he said. "I have no strength."
"Then take mine," said Izuna, and poured his remaining chakra into his brother's body.
Madara would need it. Enemies ravaged them like winter storms: the Senju, the rogue militants who surrounded the Uchiha at all times like wild dogs, the death-chill of the endless blizzards, the sickly laughter of hunger, the fear in the eyes of the Uchiha as their lot grew worse and the land of their forefathers became an ash-swept graveyard.
Yet Izuna was a younger brother, and he knew how to hope. When he thought about it like this, hope and clairvoyance were not so different; after all, in each the apparition of a future crouched, waiting with the patience of an altar for the sacrifices that would give it form and flesh. As he knelt at Madara's bedside and watched his brother give up, he already knew how their story would end.
"No more," said Madara, as his eyes grew dim and the world caved in around him. He clutched at his blankets and tried to stave off his blindness—eighteen years old and already as flattened and bloodstained as a breastplate; how had it come to this? "No more. I cannot save them. My eyes are ended."
"Then take mine," said Izuna. And like a wild beast, the future was freed.
The founding of Konoha was the single moment in Madara's life which was completely devoid of destruction. At the time, he didn't know that—all he knew was that he was tired, a fatigue so immense that it blotted away the edges of the universe, pressed grey thumbs behind his eyes, bore down into his bones like the sea in its sediments. His exhaustion was a thing with a closed face, like an idol in some distant temple, and eventually he too knelt before it and offered away his ego, succumbing to his clan and joining hands with the Senju to fashion the new world.
There was a mathematics to sacrifice that no one had taught him, but years later he would learn it in its entirety and teach it to the second of his disciples, a boy with eyes as flat as his had become. You could give your life and your blood and your bones for something and it would be acceptable, a matter of course—a matter of duty, he would have called it then—but it was when you gave another's that you would lose everything you had gained, and those who had partaken of your flesh with such shameless greed would then offer you nothing but distrust.
At the moment, though, this was still something he didn't know. There is a time, even in an immortal's life, when he is only eighteen.
What he knew, even as he took Hashirama's dark hand in his pale one, was that wartime did not change with the changing of facts on paper, or with the quicksilver alliances of those he called family. As all armistices, this was temporary. They would share their life for a few brief moments, children crouching in a sandbar, and then as mighty as a fresh tide the years would come and tear them apart again, and he would break for the new shore with sand in his hair and glittering, sea-steady knowledge in his eyes.
At the moment, there were many things he didn't know. But this he knew as surely as he knew himself.
When the chance came, Madara knew enough to recognize the end of the armistice. The Kyuubi's roar drowned the sound of the words he had exchanged with the Shodaime, and—if he had known to listen for it—the voice of an eighteen-year-old boy, saying, "No more, no more—"
He laid waste to Konoha for a brother who no longer existed and a clan who no longer cared. He would never truly create anything again in his life. Aeons would pass, and the village he had sought to destroy would be the only sign that there had been an Uchiha Madara upon this earth.
But at the moment, this was still something he didn't know.
Something happened to you when you put on your insignia for the first time. When Fugaku sewed the police emblem with its four-pointed star onto his clothing, all the world seemed to narrow to that small strip of cloth.
This, said a voice beyond conscious thought, like the ringing of a clear bell—and there he saw the purpose of his long years of training, his silent home, the swathes of quiet his wife wrapped around him with his bandages whenever he came home. This was the means and the end. This was honor.
And it was the oldest story in the world: honor was a fire that burned too brightly for everything else around it, and the rest of Uchiha Fugaku was incinerated like pine needles cast upon the blaze. Still, there was enough left to gather up the pieces of the Uchiha, to add them like coal to the conflagration, and like this a revolution was born.
In the early days, it was exciting. They dreamed for Konoha and for their families and only then for themselves, not realizing that these things were as tightly knitted together as strands in a braid of hair. They dreamed for their children, in whose dark eyes and silent footsteps they saw a future bright enough to throw the rest of the world into shadow. They dreamed and dreamed, and in their midst they raised the cancer that would destroy them, while above them entire oceans of possibility crashed and merged on the frontiers of heaven.
Fugaku was a missionary with a flag again, which was something he had forgotten in his quotidian existence of shinobi duties and chafed knees as he knelt in front of the Hokage's desk. A bridge burned under a flare of starlight, and he ran across it as a child again, bearing a message that would bring home the revolution as his lifelines winked out of existence behind him.
My son will have the same fire in his blood, he thought, as Itachi turned towards him on a pier and incinerated the air that separated them. He applauded at the fierceness of the blaze, because he could not see that his son's eyes had already shuttered closed against fire and everything it was. He did not see it.
This was all he saw: he was strong, trusted, noble—proud, as Madara had been, as Izuna had been. There was nothing he could have done against enemies he couldn't see.
The greatest anomaly of all would come in one generation, but before that, there was a boy with goggles.
Uchiha Obito's motivations were like oil on water, slipping away before the Uchiha had a chance to understand what he had been thinking when he gave away the sharingan eye. In reality, it was something that was no longer in their capacity to understand. The words Obito wrote his story in had been struck from their lexicon a long time ago, and when he finally used them, it was only outsiders who would listen, and guide him through the remainder of his life.
It was a short life. It did not need to be any longer. Within it, he demolished walls it had taken the Uchiha centuries to build. Had he lived any longer, he would have died with the rest of them at the hands of their greatest prodigy.
Yet in only a single generation a boy with a scarred face would stand and say that his container was greater than theirs had been, not knowing that Uchiha Obito had once thought the same thing. He would not have identified any similarities the cousin he remembered—a toddler who had cried when the war came howling into their lives—but he, too, died with a smile on his face, bequeathing a gift to an inheritor who would follow after, and hence the story of Uchiha Itachi was not a foreign thread but the continuation of a pattern, warp and weft criscrossing over something that had come before it.
This was what none of them knew, and what he could never tell:
That, silhouetted against falling light and failing eyes and the certainty of life's end, ordinary eyes looked like sharingan.
That, in the catatonic wash of grief at the loss of a friend, a genius looked like an average child.
That, in the end, you could expand enough to take everything else in, so that your eyes would become theirs, so that their destiny would become yours, and so that you would see the future, a pupil dilating to let in the light.
As he died, Uchiha Obito opened his eyes and saw.
Uchiha Shisui's eyes began to twinge after his older sister's death. As he crouched over the sink and washed sadness from his eye sockets, he raised his eyes to the mirror—and it was then that he noticed the tomoe pulse and contract into the shape of three linked rings that looked, oddly enough, like jewelry.
An old precious person and a new one, both eternally reflecting in his eyes. This was fitting. He laughed without mirth and wiped the blood away and went back to kill for his clan.
He was very good at it, because he was very good at everything. He kept his eyes on this.
Missions wore their grooves into his hitai-ate and the furrow of wrinkles that had grown between his eyebrows. The grass as he lay facedown at Shiori's grave tasted of reproach, bitter and smoothly working itself into his tastebuds and bringing with it the scent of dirt.
He had promised her that they were Uchiha and they would be Uchiha until they both died, and since the time limit he'd set on this had already half expired, there was nothing to do but uphold that promise.
It was an acknowledged paradox that shinobi were good at both making and keeping the worst of promises. He kept his eyes on this.
The wood of the clan's meeting table was a splintered grain that hurt his fingers and made him clench blood from his fingers as the banner of rhetoric unfurled above him. Sometimes, it seemed, the only thing that held him anchored to the earth was the long rope of Itachi's tied-back hair, as his best friend sat two rows and six seats away from him and showed him what it meant to have a center of gravity.
But Itachi's was not the name of a promise fulfilled, and so Shisui ignored this and did things he knew how to do. He set his mind glittering along the nerves of his new eyes and sent his ANBU squad to certain suicide, and his uncle Fugaku clapped him on the back and mouthed the shapes of well done and have aided us greatly even over the crackle of funeral fires burning. He felt strangled by the accusing blue tie of his hitai-ate. He smuggled weapons into to the clan caches and stacked them up like toy blocks. He stoked a fire and wore the uniform of one sworn to fight it.
Sometimes there were still days when he traded sweets in bento boxes with Itachi. One day there was the shadow of a flying kite on Itachi's face, as his rare laugh recalled skipped Academy lessons and childhood cuts on nylon string. There was always an uplifted wave as they parted ways in the twilight, Itachi's hand a small white flag as the streets of their family swallowed him, but still nothing like surrender, nothing at all like surrender.
Shisui reminded himself that these were all peripheral considerations. He was Uchiha. He kept his eyes on this.
There was a day at the Nakano, filled with sun that made his teeth ache in its sweetness, and the familiar sparkle of Itachi's necklace even through the film of the water's surface. It was clear water.
He had learned to swim in water like this. He had learned to love in water like this. He had learned that he had kept his eyes on the wrong thing in water like this. What he had seen in his periphery had always been the most important thing, and perhaps this was what the taste of that grass had been trying to tell him, perhaps this was what Shiori had learned—
Itachi's changing eyes flickered full with tears. His mouth made words that Shisui could no longer hear, suspended as he was in the elemental scream of water. Shisui could see his lips moving, beloved lips that had said something back in the war, when he was six and Itachi was four, and he hadn't heard him then, either, over the roar of bombs—and what kind of world was this, when he could hear Itachi saying you may not copy my homework and you have been looking pale lately and I do not like your new haircut but not these words, words that would be the silver coins to pay his toll across the river and into the next life?
But he could see his lips moving. He could see that Itachi was saying something. He could see that, perhaps, Itachi's mouth was reforming itself around the shape of his name.
He kept his eyes on this.
Mikoto was a bad mother, which was, in the end, one of the few things she could say with complete certainty about her life.
When Itachi stood over her with the sword, what she wanted more than anything was to apologize to him, without knowing what for. Yet, she had done what had been asked of her—he had had three solid meals a day, a healthy body, a beautiful face, an education and a career, and him only thirteen—
Generations before her would have said she had done well.
But still, in the crescent downswing of the blade, this was what she wanted to say:
Stay home with me, today. School can wait. We will go to the market, and I will buy you what you're not allowed to eat—marzipan, ice cream, the sugar candy you stopped eating when you passed your chuunin exam. You can hold my hand, and we'll both pretend you need it to stay upright, although you've been walking on your own for as long as I can remember. I will comb your hair for you, even if you can do it yourself, and I will let you braid mine, too, although your father doesn't like it and it's nothing a decent shinobi should be doing. We will spin on unswept floors and dance away the mornings, while the dishes grow dirty and the beds unmade, and in the afternoon, you will take your brother for a swim, or to the park, or anything that doesn't involve knives and targets—and I will wave to you without any sadness, because I know you'll come back as I left you. In the night, I will sit by your bed and sing to you, although I don't know any lullabies—I will learn, I promise you. I will, this time. Let me have another chance. Please. Please.
This time, I will do it right.
The blade was a perfect sliver of moon against the stars she couldn't see. Still, she had to try. She said, "Itachi, I—" and then "Please," and then she said nothing at all.
It takes a person five to ten minutes to drown. There are five stages. Itachi had always walked Shisui through their assignments, so like this he took Shisui past shock, breathlessness, unconsciousness, the convulsions of cardiac arrest, and the stop of the heartbeat before his best friend had finally understood what was wanted of his body and died.
This was why users of the Mangekyou were feared: after you had done this, you could do anything.
He had made notes for the drowning in his small precise handwriting as Madara dictated it to him, only periodically stopping to wonder why the clinical descriptions of what would happen to Shisui—blocked epiglottis, hypoxia—made his hands shake so hard.
Shisui died. Itachi made more notes.
Some of these notes were maps: Madara's sections of the compound and his, filled in neatly with Academy highlighters and memorized in a single slow turn of sharingan eyes. Some were lists: a special technique his cousin Shigure had picked up in Kiri that would probably give him trouble, a small diagram of his dangerous aunt Yuko's arthritic weak spots, the addresses and signature jutsu of the two clan members who possessed the Mangekyou. Some were reminders to himself: two Amaterasu, no more, or he would lose his vision for the rest of the evening, and try to reach his young chuunin cousins before Madara did. Some were nothing at all: helpmehelpmehelpme I am so sorry I love you love you love love love—
The clan died. Itachi made his last note.
This was a speech:
When you have the same eyes that I do, come before me.
Itachi made notes because he liked to be prepared for all eventualities. There were always eventualities. He knew this. He was prepared.
Someday Sasuke would come after him with the taste of blood in his mouth and he would be dashed against the wall; his bones would be broken and his chest torn open as his body snapped along the ribcage, the crack of bone like the snap of a katon, and his little brother would plunge his hands into the cavity and scoop out a still-beating heart as soft as a ripe fruit. He would rip it from the veins that anchored it in place, snap the wet strings of arteries that dangled from it, crush its hot slickness in his capable hands, and he would not notice when Itachi poured himself into him and dirtied his blood with the hellfire that would set him free.
Someday Madara would find Sasuke and Itachi would come at him from beyond the concept of death, beyond the concept of time, and tear him to pieces with his teeth and his screaming mouth and his tongue that was all drowned in the taste of blood. He would rip him limb from limb, every finger that had made its mark on Sasuke's skin.
Someday Itachi would find someone Sasuke loved and give to him a piece of his own soul, and this person—whoever, wherever—would draw Sasuke back from the precipice and fall with him, teetering, into the relieved dust at its edge, because Itachi would not be there to do so himself.
Someday Konoha would know peace, because Itachi would make it so.
These things were poetry in his mind, but on paper they were just notes in sentences, their stanzas clipped and cut into manageable chunks that became short sestinas, the same words repeated and rewritten and crossed out over the span of years. The years kept sliding past. One day 'someday' was upon him and all his farsight was condensed into one dewy moment, fingers against Sasuke's forehead, words spoken into the possibility of the spaces between them, where they were still brothers and the past and future collided like two inorexable tides.
Itachi died. He was prepared.
Karin was skewered on his Chidori and Konoha was all spread out behind her like a carpet of mottled blood, glistening in the sunshine and darkened here and there with internal secrets—organs and mashed bones and white cartilage here and there like stars in the firmament, so beautiful. Sasuke hadn't found anything beautiful in years.
He let her drop to the ground and thrust his hands into the dirt at his feet. He wanted to wrap himself in the blood of this village and soak it into his skin, warm still like an embrace from its owners, a vengeance that was tangible and brilliantly messy as Itachi's ascension—saints ascended, did they not? Was that what happened?—was not.
"All this blood," said Sasuke, clenching his fingers in the dirt.
"There is no blood," said Madara. "Stop this nonsense and come with me."
"There is," said Sasuke. "It's Itachi's. It's all Itachi's."
"There is no Itachi," said Madara.
The first and last Uchiha bookended their history like this: eyes from a beloved brother, alien in the face and prone to sudden tears that came from nowhere, as if the crying ghost still inhabited them. Things came full circle in the shape of a hangman's noose. Sasuke couldn't see any of it.
What he could see was a village all gilded in his brother's brilliant lifeblood, and the ledger of justice balanced to exactitude on the power and potency of his body. What he could see was Itachi's eyes wide-open in pride or perhaps reproach, although it was too hard to tell and he had never been able to read his brother's secrets anyway. Even this was a stretch, because none of it had happened, and he already knew he lacked Itachi's gift for farsight.
In reality, he knew he couldn't see anything at all.
Things came full circle.
"Are you coming?" asked Madara.
Sasuke said, "Yes."