Author's Notes: Knowledge of canon is somewhat important. A quick look through Narutopedia, especially Danzo's page, would suffice. It is not absolutely necessary, but recommended. I have tried to utilized as many canon characters as possible. Any that are my own construction will be noted.
Dedication: To Those Who Wait. Thank you.
As Far As Innocence Goes
Deep within the Uchiha Compound, a clan meeting was being held. Uchiha clan meetings were always heavy affairs, but today's debate was exceptionally—
"A marriage between the Hyuuga Heiress and Itachi?"
"It has to be a trap. Why would the Hyuuga suddenly propose something like this?" The word 'this' was spat out like a curse.
Uchiha Fugaku ignored it. Ever since the incident that Fugaku secretly dubbed Itachi's "temper tantrum", Uchiha Inabi would go after anything Itachi-related like a dog goes after the last bone.
Sigh. The things he put up with in the name of family.
Instead, Fugaku looked to the older Uchiha, the ones that generally could be counted upon to think before they spoke. Like Inabi, most had varying degrees of distrust on their faces, but a few of them were contemplative if not outright interested.
"It is an interesting proposal," one of the Elders ventured.
"A trap—" Inabi began vehemently.
Fugaku caught Uchiha Yakumi's eye. The top knot bobbed in silent assent.
Inabi felt a sharp elbow press against his ribs. It was not a quick jab, more like a prolonged intrusion, long enough for Inabi to know it was not accidental. When he turned to growl at the offender, he followed Yakumi's gaze and met Fugaku's eyes.
Inabi shut up.
"As I was saying," the Elder continued, politely pretending not to notice the exchange, "it is worth considering. Hear me out—" he raised a hand to stifle the protests rising from the lips of the other Uchiha, "while it is true we have not had the... closest of relationships with the Hyuuga, it is worth remembering that the Hyuuga were among the few that initially resisted Konohagakure's unfair policies toward us."
"Not like they did anything useful about it," Inabi muttered underneath his breath.
"Although the actual proposal, is, of course, out of the question—how can Itachi marry out?-perhaps we could consider offering an alternative? This is a key chance to extend our influence—" And now the room truly descended into chaos.
"This is only another plot to control the Uchiha!" It was Uchiha Tekka shouted over the uproar.
'Another one of Inabi's cronies,' Fugaku thought with an inward sigh. He tucked his hands into his sleeves and waited. After a few years of being the Uchiha Clan Head and head of the Konohagakure Military Police Force, Fugaku knew that sometimes, one simply had to wait for emotions to run their course.
"Can this not be viewed as a step in the right direction?"
Swiftly enough, silence descended. Ever since his son's death, Uchiha Kagami rarely spoke; barely at meals, and not at all at Clan meetings. Even the most hotheaded of Uchiha youths respectfully quieted.
"We started this all because we wanted to resist Konohagakure's unfair treatment of us." Although Kagami's voice was soft, even cozy, his eyes were fixated distantly on the far wall, "And yet, isn't a union between two of the four noble clans of Konohagakure already the first step to regaining our lost position?"
"But on Hyuuga terms!" someone sputtered.
Kagami was silent for a moment. "The Council of Elders would not be pleased. They will investigate." Kagami finally flicked his gaze toward Fugaku. "Surely the Hyuuga would have expected that, and yet, still they offer this proposal. And marriage to the Clan Heiress herself... this is no small gift they offer."
Fugaku considered. Although Fugaku was the Clan Head, Kagami was his elder by a few years. Not only was Kagami an elder, he was a venerated one. Kagami was the ideal Uchiha. He had done all that a Uchiha ought to do: uphold the pride of the Uchiha name, protect the village, produce a Uchiha son equally deserving of his bloodline.
'Pity that Shisui died so young,' Fugaku thought. But never mind. The point was, Kagami's words were heavy things, not to be taken lightly.
"And to be consort to the Hyuuga Head-why, isn't that the seat of power itself?" murmured the Elder who had spoken before. "Rumors also say that the current Heiress has a weak Byagukan."
"Why not marry her to another Hyuuga with a stronger Byakugan then?" countered Uchiha Yashiro. Of Inabi's posse, he was the most patient. Fugaku would even venture to say he was the most intelligent. "It's been years since the Hyuuga have allowed an outsider to marry into the Main House. No, they want something."
"They want Itachi," spat another Uchiha.
"If Itachi were to marry out of the clan, Sasuke would be the heir," one of the Elders pointed out.
Again, a sudden stunned silence—and then a contemplative one. It was no secret that Itachi had expressed reservations for the Uchiha's grand plan. He had long stopped attending Clan meetings despite Fugaku's direct orders. And of course, there were those rumors about Shisui's death…
"Surely we aren't actually considering it?" one Uchiha dumbly said.
"Of course not!"
"But would it really be so bad?" pointed out another Elder. "Although perhaps not as brilliant as his elder brother, young Sasuke has begun to show extraordinary promise of his own."
"The plan will have to be delayed then!"
"We've waited this long. What is a few more years?"
"I can't believe we are actually considering this…"
Fugaku stayed silent. If the proposal had come as little as two weeks ago, he would have dismissed it completely. But with the way Itachi had been behaving lately—
How great the Uchiha must be, to have been reduced to plotting treason against the very village they help found!
A disloyal Uchiha was lower than a dog.
"It would be a way for the Uchiha to extend their influence," one of the Elders said.
"I'm surprised they have the audacity to ask Itachi to marry out. I would have thought they would propose otherwise," Mikoto said. She waited for a heartbeat before adding, "Given the weak Byagukan and all."
A very good point.
Fugaku furrowed his eyebrows and turned to his left, where his wife demurely sat. Uchiha Mikoto met his gaze calmly.
"Still, Fugaku-sama, surely you can't seriously be considering—"
"Why don't we offer Sasuke instead—"
"It's not like our brave, great Itachi-san has been very eager to be a real Uchiha lately," Inabi sneered.
All the while, Fugaku did not turn his gaze away from his wife.
"Mikoto, what do you think?"
"I think—" Mikoto spoke slowly, carefully."We should ask Itachi what he feels about this. That is, when he gets back."
On the other side of town, a similar situation was unfolding.
"How could you?" seethed a Hyuuga Elder.
Although they held their Clan Meetings in a polished shoji-scree-and-tatami-mat traditional compound instead of the ugly Uchiha gray cement complex, the arrangement was similar. Clan Elders knelt in rows on each side of Hiashi, who sat at the head of the room, alone.
Hiashi calmly meet the Elder's piercing white eyes. "It is within my right."
"You cannot make such a monumental decision on your own—not when it involves those traitors!" Although most of the Hyuuga were willing to give the Uchiha the benefit of doubt when it came to their alleged relationship with the Nine Tails, they all knew that the Uchiha were up to something.
"To join our noble house with such—"
"True, they never ought to be treated the way they have been, but the Uchiha are still—"
"Then Hanabi would be heiress?" another Elder asked sharply.
Eyes which had been engaging their neighbors in debate swiveled to stare at the Clan Head. Hiashi pressed his hands against his thighs and braced himself.
"Hinata would be married as heiress."
Shouting. Fist thumping. Spittle flying.
"How dare you!"
"You will taint our clan with that filth?"
Hiashi raised his hand for silence. They gave it to him very reluctantly.
"Uchiha Itachi would become a Hyuuga."
The impossibility of his proposal was such that it took the Hyuuga Elders a good, long moment to understand him.
"And what makes you so sure the Uchiha would be willing to part with their darling heir?" *Hyuuga Yuuko asked silkily.
Hiashi watched the old woman carefully. In a Clan still heavily dominated by men, Hyuuga Yuuko was one of the Clan's pillars. Although a bit of an infamous eccentric with a fondness for drink—Hiashi had taken care to keep Hinata far, far away from her—she was also peerlessly loyal and her opinion carried weight.
"It's not entirely impossible," Hiashi said. "It's a chance for the Uchiha to recover from their disgraced position."
"But to give up Uchiha Itachi?" Yuuko pressed. "Does the Hokage know this?"
It was a legitimate question. Personal pride and enmity wasn't the only reason that had kept the four noble clans separate. Hokages past and present had taken care to quietly encourage the divisions. No clan should have too much power after all. A union between the Hyuuga and the Uchiha, radical and impossible as it sounded, would definitely alter the delicate balance.
"He does," Hiashi answered curtly.
As the rest of the Elders and Main House Hyuuga rocked back on their heels in ill-concealed shock, Yuuko's eyes glittered. Abruptly, she laughed.
"Which means he's either isn't worried, or he's hoping we'll mutually grind ourselves to bearable size. Clever, clever. And I assume the Konohagakure elders are, as of yet, unaware?"
Hiashi inclined his head. "You are correct."
"Yuuko-san, surely you can't seriously be considering this?" protested one of the Elders.
"And why not?" Yuuko smoothed her lap. "Contrary to your words, Uchiha Itachi is not filth. He is fine shinobi, arguably of the finest that this village has seen in generations—and don't wrinkle your face like that, you know I'm right. It would be no shame for the Hyuuga to call him our own."
"And besides, what better way for the disgraced Uchiha to return to the fold than to reach out to the Hyuuga? They are our distant cousins, after all."
"Respectfully speaking, I think you are oversimplifying matters, Yuuko-san—"
"Am I?" And here she faked a little yawn. "Perhaps young Uchiha Itachi has a little bit more teeth than most, but are you saying it's something we, the Hyuuga, cannot handle?"
Most of the Main House Hyuuga unhappily bit back their words. From the sandbox to the sterile hospital bed, males could not resist a poke at their pride-especially Hyuuga males.
Despite Hyuuga Yuuko's words, Hiashi was not fooled. She suspected something, but she wasn't about to call him out on it in a general Clan Meeting.
"Well, perhaps we are over thinking things. The Uchiha could always reject. But for Hiashi-sama to bring this to our attention, surely he must have some suspicions that they will actually entertain the proposal?"
Hiashi froze his face even as he inwardly steeled himself. He was the Clan Head and he would not be bullied by his own Council.
As the Clans argued, Uchiha Itachi ran.
The wind stung his slashed cheek but he didn't slow. In fact, he picked up the pace. His sandal thumped loudly against the tree branch, but there was no point in staying silent anymore.
Uchiha Itachi turned his red eyes just slightly, enough to catch the series of hand signals the other ANBU flashed at him. Itachi gave a minute nod and suddenly jerked to a stop.
The package was secured. This cat and mouse chase could end now.
Even behind his white mask, Itachi's face was frozen. He didn't curl his lips into a snarl, didn't grit his teeth, not even when his bare hands curled around human guts and threw the still-hot organs onto the ground, where they steamed against the cold night-dew grass.
There was someone behind him. Itachi shoved his toe into the ground as an anchor as he spun, raised leg swiftly and easily kicking aside the assailant. Even before the thought became a conscious one, chakra streaked down Itachi's leg as he shoved off his toe, sending himself into the air and after the enemy's sailing body. Itachi's fingers grabbed the enemy's leg, snapping the fibula just before his other hand sent a senbon spinning toward that one, delicate spot in the neck. The enemy was dead before he even hit the ground
The battle was over. Even as his body relaxed, finally registering that he was safe—for now—Itachi unthinkingly took a second look. In that brief moment, his eyes caught the curve of a feminine breast and the exposed line of a small, fragile face.
The enemy had been a woman.
For four days, Konohagakure swayed. The Hyuuga and Uchiha tip-toed around each other, exchanging remarks and greetings that said nothing yet meant something. The Aburames, who can sense the very change in the wind, watched carefully, while the Akimichis hid their rising suspicion with their usual beer-belly joviality. The rest of Konohagakure continued life as usual, except for a few un-clanned shinobi and some observant civilians who began to open their ears and eyes just a little wider.
And then Uchiha Itachi returned.
"A moment, Itachi-san."
His report was finished. There was nothing more to be said. The ANBU mission had been a success: all packages had been secured, at only the price of Boar's arm. So anything else must be about—
Although the Third Hokage kept his face impassive, inwardly he looked sadly at the boy. Without his mask, Itachi looked young even in the dark unflinching ANBU gear. But the Hokage wagered Itachi would grow into it soon enough.
ANBU Captain, Uchiha Heir, and Double Spy: all titles that, alone, were enough to break a man. It was a wonder the boy was still standing. And now the Hokage was about to rip apart his world again.
For Konohagakure, the Third Hokage told himself. For Konohagakure he would sow the earth with salt and sacrifice the youth.
"In your absence, the Hyuuga have proposed a marriage between you and the Hyuuga Heiress."
"The Hyuuga Heiress?" Itachi enunciated slowly.
"Yes. Little Hyuuga Hinata, same age as Sasuke—surely you two have met before?"
Itachi woodenly nodded. He had attended the late Hyuuga matriarch's funeral with his father after all.
"Well then. I do not know how your father would react to the situation, but I suspect he would not dismiss the proposal outright. After all, besides the Uchiha of course, the Hyuuga is the most powerful clan in Konohagakure. An alliance would not be remiss to the Uchiha." The Hokage leant forward in his chair, so far so that his hat almost dipped completely over his eyes. "I need you to somehow get the Clan to agree to the marriage."
"That I marry Hyuuga Hinata?"
"That you marry into the Hyuuga," the Hokage stressed. In the ensuing pause, the Hokage carefully watched Itachi's hands, which were kept in plain-view, basic shinobi etiquette-style.
The fourth and index finger in Itachi's left hand twitched.
"Then Sasuke would become the Clan Heir," Itachi said softly.
"Forgive me if I am presumptuous, Hokage-sama, but how would this help?"
"For one thing, the Hyuuga's involvement would buy us some time. The Uchiha would likely halt any current plans as they consider this new development while the Council of Elders—" Danzo went unsaid but implied, "would also reserve action, at least for the time being."
Itachi flicked his eyes to the window for a brief moment, where Konohagakure could be seen in all her peaceful nighttime glory. When Itachi met the Hokage's eyes again, his face was unreadable. "The Hyuuga proposed this agreement with your prompting?"
Smart kid. "Let's just say, I was able to convince Hiashi-san that his cooperation would be mutually beneficial for both the Hyuuga and Konohagakure. Are there any more questions?"
"Tell your father you'll spy on the Hyuuga for the Uchiha if you have to. It is absolutely imperative that this agreement go through—I can't keep resisting Danzo and the Council much longer by myself."
Itachi's eyes tightened. The premature wrinkles on his cheeks deepened. "I understand, Hokage-sama."
"Good. You are dismissed."
Even before Itachi vanishes in a barely-audible pop of smoke, the Hokage was rummaging in his desk for tobacco.
"Kami, I need a smoke."
The Uchiha were oppressive.
"You are oddly quiet." Inabi's voice, although not outright insubordinate, was too silky.
Itachi did not rise to the bait. He kept his eyes on his parents, mostly on Fugaku, although he watched Mikoto carefully from time to time.
"What does otou-sama think?" Itachi asked, buying time.
Fugaku was having none of it. "I want to know what you think."
Itachi could feel the gazes of the other Uchiha—his family—burn into his back, his side, the corner of his eye. In public, the Uchiha presented a united front, but within their own, they did not hesitate to punish heresy. As Clan Heir, Itachi had gotten away with more than most with his comments and refusal to participate in Clan meetings, but he knew even his own father was losing patience with him.
"If such a proposal were to be carried out—" Itachi began carefully. "The Uchiha would gain a foothold in the Hyuuga."
"I told you he wasn't really one of us," Uchiha Tekka muttered.
"Indeed, the Hyuuga would be quite an ally to have," Fugaku said, his voice so carefully controlled, it was impossible for Itachi to sense his father's true feelings. "But is it worth you leaving the Uchiha?"
"I understand I have been difficult recently—" the other Uchiha shifted. "But that is because I have been… frustrated. Impotent that the situation has not changed."
It sickened Itachi to see those who he called family nod their heads and murmur, as if wanting violence was understandable. Once again, Itachi was reminded why he had agreed to spy on his own family in the first place. For their ambition, the Uchiha would see Konohagakure in flames.
"I could be useful at the Hyuugas. Although I wouldn't be the Clan Heir anymore, I am still a Uchiha."
And then from the way Fugaku shifted in his seat, Itachi knew that he had lost his father forever. Fugaku had no use for a Clan Heir who would willingly marry out the clan, even if it was for a "greater cause".
"Do you think Sasuke would be a worthy Clan Heir?" one of the Elders called out.
Itachi never wanted Sasuke to be the Clan Heir. Despite what others may claim, there were no true rewards. Itachi wanted Sasuke to be free, or at least as a free as a shinobi and a Uchiha could possibly be.
You know the Uchiha cannot be left alive, said Danzo voice. Not if Konohagakure is to truly have peace.
Being a Clan Heir was still better than having no clan however.
"I think—" Itachi forced his voice to be steady. "that Sasuke would make a worthy Clan Heir."
"Itachi," Mikoto gently interrupted.
Here in the meetings, Mikoto was not Itachi's mother. She was Fugaku's wife, matriarch of the Uchiha Clan, and even if her eyes were a bit softer than most, Itachi knew not to let down his guard.
"Are you truly willing?" Mikoto pressed.
Was he willing? To leave this cesspit he called family? To leave his younger brother to these wolves while he fought even bigger wolves from without? To leave the only place he had ever called home, to enter another clan infamous for their antipathy toward all other clans?
The Hokage had spoken, and for all his brilliance, Itachi never really had a choice.
Itachi bent his head low to the ground.
Hyuuga Yuuko* is not so much a personal construction as a loose graft from a very famous manga. Hint: she has a "manservant" that goes by the name of Watanuki.
Thoughts? Too confusing? A writer has difficult gauging how her writing is perceived by readers, so please, let me know.