Disclaimer: I don't own the Naruto series or any characters in it.
"Shisui," Itachi asks in a quiet voice, "what would you do if you ever had to choose between two people you loved greatly? Say, if both of your teammates were dying and you could only save one?"
"Huh?" Shisui looks up at him, surprised by such a serious question. They're sitting on the railing of the bridge that crosses the Nakano River as it flows through the Uchiha district, their legs dangling over the side. They've been coming here to spend time together since they were small children. Sometimes they practice the water-walking jutsu, sometimes they fish, and sometimes they just sit on the bridge and talk. When they talk, it's usually about inconsequential things: gossip regarding the exact nature of Ibiki and Anko's relationship, speculation about what Hatake Kakashi looks like under his mask, complaints about how the older of the two Haruno girls always follows them around like a lost puppy. The question Itachi has just asked is an unusually solemn topic for their conversations.
"What would you do if you were faced with a situation where there was no good choice? A situation where the only decision you could make was between 'bad' and 'worse'?"
"Oh, that's easy. I've told you about my Chuunin Exam, right?"
Itachi nods. For the month after Shisui was promoted, Itachi heard about nothing but his Chuunin Exam.
"Do you remember what I said about the First Exam?"
"If I recall, you said that there was some commotion regarding your answer to the secret tenth question." In truth, the term "secret tenth question" was something of a misnomer, because everyone knew that there was always a tenth question on the Exam that tested some measure of the examinees' character that was judged to be important for a ninja. But no group knew going into the Exam what form the question would take, because Ibiki changed it every year. Furthermore, students were banned from telling anyone exactly what the question they had faced was.
Shisui glances around, checking to see that no one is nearby, then says, "You better not tell anyone I said this, because I'll get in tons of trouble, but the tenth question when I took the Exam was almost exactly the same as the one you just asked me. It asked about a situation in which you had to choose between saving your best friend and protecting the village. Like you said, a situation where the only decision you could make was between 'bad' and 'worse'."
"And what did you answer?"
"We had ten minutes to answer the question, and I spent nine of those minutes agonizing over it. Then I stood up, slammed my pencil down on the desk, and said, 'The tenth question is invalid. It assumes that either the friend or the village's security must be sacrificed.' So Ibiki-sensei looks at me, and says, 'It does assume that, Shisui-kun. The purpose of the question is to determine how you would react in a no-win scenario.'"
There is a brief silence, and Itachi prompts, "And then...?"
Shisui fixes Itachi with a blinding grin. "You know how Ibiki-sensei can be. Intimidating as all hell. But I didn't back down. I said, 'Yeah, and that's why it's not a valid question. If I was put in a situation like that, I'd find a way to save both, because that's my way of the ninja! Ain't no such thing as a no-win scenario, not now, not ever!' And you know what happened then?"
Itachi shakes his head.
"Ibiki's just about to say something else when that Maito Gai kid stands up and yells, 'Yes! Shisui-san is right! His heart is filled with the youthful power of the Will of Fire! I, too, will reject the choice. Should I ever see two people I love in danger, I shall save them both! That is also my ninja way!' And then, some chick from Cloud gets up and calmly tells Ibiki-sensei that she agrees. This really fat kid from Sand says the same thing. In thirty seconds, every student in the room is on their feet, telling Ibiki-sensei that they reject the question too. You shoulda seen him, there was this huge vein pulsing on the side of his face, and I seriously thought he was gonna fall over dead from a stroke or something."
Itachi blinks in wonderment. He knows that Shisui passed the Chuunin Exam on the first try, which means the answer he gave must have been acceptable. Was it possible that in some permutations of the First Exam, the correct answer to the secret question was to say that the question itself was wrong?
Shisui continues on. "So then the Examining Committee had to make a decision: whether to pass all of us, or fail all of us. They debated for two and a half days, because they had never had something like this happen before. I hear it was Sandaime-sama who finally convinced them to pass us, but I've never heard the reason why. Hana-chan says he just didn't want to go to the feudal lords and tell them he'd failed all their genin. Gai-san, of course, thinks it's because Sandaime-sama has the same ninja way that we were all talking about. Who knows what the real reason is? But it's the only time in history that every genin has passed the First Exam."
That day, when Shisui suggests that they head for home, Itachi tells him to go on ahead and remains on the bridge, staring into the setting sun.
"Sasuke-kun, will you tell us the story again?" Sakura asked.
Naruto groaned. He'd heard this story from everyone in the village about a million times, and felt no desire to sit through it yet again.
Sasuke, on the other hand, seemed thrilled by the request. He practically puffed out his chest with pride as he began. "You all know the beginning, right? About how Madara took control of the Kyuubi and attacked Konoha, and because the Sharingan can affect the Kyuubi, lots of people assumed the Uchiha Clan had done it and got really suspicious of them?"
"We know the beginning, we know the whole story, everyone in Konoha knows it," Naruto muttered.
Sasuke ignored him. "So the rest of the village started treating the Uchiha really badly, and of course we were mad because we were being mistreated for something that wasn't our fault."
He paused, as if expecting Naruto to make another snide comment, but the orange-clad genin didn't. He knew all about how it felt to be mistreated for something you had nothing to do with.
"Eventually, things got so bad that the Clan Elders started considering an open rebellion. Danzou and the Village Elders got wind of it, and asked Nii-san to spy on the Clan. Finally, when he told them that things were reaching the breaking point, they told him to massacre the Clan."
Sakura clapped her hands over her mouth as if she were watching a horror movie. Naruto briefly considered putting an arm around her shoulders, as if they were actually watching a horror movie, but then decided that he liked breathing, thank you very much.
"Well, Nii-san obviously loved the Clan, and he's an honorable shinobi, so of course he didn't want to hurt his own kinsmen. But he also knew that a conflict between the Uchiha and the rest of the village would tear Konoha apart, and leave it vulnerable to being attacked by outside enemies. At first, he was serioiusly considering carrying out the orders, and he even went so far as to track down Madara and ask for his help."
Sasuke stopped talking then, so Sakura tugged his arm and said, "So what happened next, Sasuke-kun?"
Sasuke pulled his arm out of her grip (but gently, because he liked breathing too) and said, "I don't know exactly what happened next. All Nii-san will say is, 'Shisui talked to me.' But he changed his mind, and decided to refuse the orders. Instead, the next time he met with Madara to 'plan for the Massacre', he used a special ANBU ninjutsu to record Madara talking about how he'd made the Kyuubi attack Konoha. It was just a passive jutsu that records everything the user sees and hears-because it wasn't interfering with Madara's chakra at all, the old bastard didn't catch on to what it was. With his own Sharingan, he saw that Nii-san had a ninjutsu active, of course, but he figured it was some defensive thing in case Madara attacked him. Nii-san told Sandaime-sama about what had happened and, with his permission, projected the recording into his mind."
"But how did Old Man Third know it wasn't just an illusion or something?" Naruto asked, getting interested despite himself.
"Idiot! Do you really think Sandaime-sama would fall for a genjutsu?" Sakura retorted. "Even if it was cast by someone who must be great since he's related to Sasuke-kun," she amended hastily, with a hopeful look at Sasuke.
"Sakura-san's right," Sasuke said (causing Sakura to blush furiously). "Sandaime-sama could tell the recording was real, and he used his own jutsu to show it to everyone in the village."
Sakura shook her head. "Can you imagine how much chakra it must have taken to pull that off?"
"Yep, Old Man Third sure is awesome!" Naruto agreed. "Almost as awesome as me!"
"Anyway," Sasuke went on, "now people knew that even though it was an Uchiha who summoned the Kyuubi, it was one who had been cast out of the Clan decades ago. After that, things started to get better between the Clan and the village."
"So Itachi-san was able to save everybody, right?" Sakura said. "The Uchiha Clan and the village. That's so amazing!" And I bet Sasuke-kun will be just as amazing when he grows up!
Naruto, meanwhile, was deep in thought. On one hand, he was well and truly sick of hearing Sasuke tell the story as if it somehow made him a great person. After all, it had been his brother who managed to find a way out of what seemed like a hopeless situation, not him. On the other hand, there was something about the story that just made sense to him, and he could never hear it without smiling at the end.
"Okay!" he proclaimed finally, jumping to his feet and thrusting a fist in the air. "I've decided! Even though you're annoying, Sasuke, and nowhere near as awesome a ninja as me, I've gotta admit that your brother had the right idea. So his ninja way is gonna be my way too. I'll always protect all the people I care about, and if anyone ever tries to make me choose between them, I'll say, 'I'm gonna save both of them, because the great Uzumaki Naruto doesn't believe in no-win situations!' From now on, that's how I'm gonna live, and it's why I'll become the best Hokage ever someday!"
Sasuke stared at him in disbelief for a few moments, then said, "Do you always have to be so melodramatic, dead-last?" But there was a tiny smile on his face as he said it. Even Sakura looked faintly admiring.
And as for Kakashi...he was holding his beloved orange book up in front of his face, because if he didn't, the mask might not be enough to hide how proud he was at that moment.
A/N: This story was inspired by three things: Naruto promising Itachi that if Sasuke turned against Konoha, he'd stop him without killing him, and Captain Kirk beating the "unbeatable" Kobayashi Maru test and declaring that he doesn't believe in no-win scenarios, and someone on a forum (I forget who) suggesting that Itachi should have found a similar "third way" to resolve the problem.
The "fat kid from Sand" who took the Exam with Shisui isn't meant to be anyone in particular, but I like the idea of the "chick from Cloud" being the jinchuuriki that Hidan and Kakuzu killed. I don't know if she's old enough to have been taking the Exam pre-Massacre, though.
Thanks for reading!