Thanks to everyone who hopped on this ride! Hoped you enjoyed the story! I enjoyed writing it, despite its sad ending. Here's the Epilogue.
Itachi woke with a hard jolt, sitting upright as if he'd been stuck with a taser.
"Stop!" he yelled, holding his arm out, his instinct, in this case, to protect.
His voice echoed, bouncing back and forth against the cave walls, meeting nothing but stillness and emptiness. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he took a few moments to reconcile what he had been experiencing while unconscious with what was happening now.
"It's alright," a soft voice said from beside him. His head swiveled to find none other than Kanae kneeling just a few feet away. He blinked a few times, still attempting to link the emotions of what his visions had made him feel to the present. He remembered the last time he had "seen" her was when she self-destructed in an explosion of angry blue chakra, her final escape from the Uchiha clan...his clan. He also remembered when he last saw her in his time; in his life she didn't appear to be real, only a mirage.
But now, she was as real as anyone could get. She was no longer enveloped in a veil of luminosity but was flesh and blood, another person sitting there with him. He even felt her signature, and was shocked to realize it was exactly the same as the one he "felt" in his sleep.
He stared unrelentingly into iridescent amber eyes. She chuckled lightly.
"I suppose I should have warned you of what I was going to do."
He must have looked shell-shocked. The wiring in his brain was still conducting signals and responses to everything that had happened and what was currently happening that he couldn't speak for a few moments, but eventually he found his voice.
"Kanae-hime," he choked out, and was surprised at the way he sounded: desperate, sorrowful, anxious, and almost pleading. "Were you aware-?" he began to ask, still attempting to formulate his thought processes to a little more than muddled, but had to pause. There were so many things he wanted to say and ask her. He swallowed thickly and started again. "Were you aware that the Uchiha clan is currently preparing to overthrow the Sandaime Hokage and usurp power in Konoha?"
She nodded dolefully. "Yes. I see everything that I want to see." She smiled a diffident but knowing smile. "I have seen how powerful the Senju and Uchiha clans had become over the years. Two of the most powerful. I saw how the ninja world was changing, transitioning into its own entity that wanted independence from the control of the Daimyos. I saw how the Senju and the Uchiha had finally come to the peace that had evaded them for so many years. My nephew, Senju Hashirama..." Her small smile grew into a grin of affection and pride. "...the Shodai Hokage of Konohakagure no Sato, the first ever shinobi village. Then Tobirama next as Nidaime-Hokage."
She stopped for a long moment, her attention diverted to her inner thoughts, then her smile slowly faded. "I saw the wars. I saw the highs of peace and prosperity to the lows of being in need." Here, her brows pulled down in an expression of pain and disappointment. "And I have seen the peace that the Uchiha thought they desired was short-lived." Her eyes were were both gentle and hard, glinting sterling in the dim light of the cave. Gentle because she knew of Itachi's dilemma and hard because of what the Uchiha were currently planning. Her sympathy won out over her vexation with his clan. She softly moved her hand across his brow, over his temple and down his cheek until she was tracing the distinct line of his jaw. Her caress was similar to his mother's, that of which she would have given him not so long ago. Lately, her kunoichi suspicions over his loyalty kept her motherly attentions at bay.
"What will you do?" Kanae asked softly.
That was the ultimate question, but adding the revelations of Kanae's experience Itachi was already starting to lean to one side.
"When I was four-years old, I witnessed the atrocities of war firsthand. What my clan plans to do will not only incite a civil war in Konoha but will undoubtedly be the catalyst for another shinobi war. The Fourth Shinobi War. I will do anything in my power to prevent such an occurrence. Anything."
The ferocity in Itachi's eyes and the austerity of his demeanor were so profound that Kanae eyes widened and she inhaled sharply. She already knew how strong the young shinobi was because she had seen it herself, but if she was clueless as to the extent of his talent this promulgation and the feelings behind it demonstrated exactly how strong.
He looked at her pointedly. "And if the Uchiha are incapable of standing down or compromising, then there is only one option."
Kanae sat in thought for a few moments. "This is merely coincidental," she stated evenly, gesturing between the two of them. "I didn't mean to further exacerbate the situation you're in."
Itachi nodded. "I assumed as much. You have perfect timing." A corner of his mouth tilted in an ironic smirk.
The way she was facing had part of her body in shadow, but when she adjusted her position, Itachi caught a certain gleam off of Kanae's collarbone. She noticed his eyes cast downward and knew exactly what caught his attention. The fingers of one of her hands automatically touched the three rings of the necklace Ryosuki had given her. Itachi continued to stare, half transfixed and half in distracted thought. Kanae reached behind her, unclasped the metal chain and held it out for him. His eyes shot up to hers, asking are you sure?
"Please," she insisted, taking one of his hands, placing the necklace into his palm, her fingers closing over his. "I know that Ryo would want this, too."
Itachi had to swallow hard to avoid tearing up. To further occupy himself from an emotional display, he observed the piece of jewelry, slightly twisting it this way and that before placing it on himself. He looked up at Kanae but before he could open his mouth she spoke.
"There is no need for you to continue your mission. It was fabricated so I could lure you into my trap." She smiled mischievously.
Itachi stared expressionlessly at the princess. "A fake mission, huh?"
Kanae smiled wider, unashamed. Itachi wondered what kind of jutsu she used and how she pulled it off, but decided not to ask.
He stood up, and after holding a hand out to help Kanae get to her feet, they walked toward the entrance to the cave side-by-side.
"You know, I was supposed to receive a considerable amount of compensation for-" Itachi started to say, feigning irritation, but then was interrupted by a feeling...or more accurately not feeling. They had reached the end of the cave and were at the threshold when Kanae's chakra signature suddenly disappeared. When Itachi turned to the place the Senju princess was standing, she was gone.
Because he was Itachi and he never disobeyed an order, when he got home he went straight to the Hokage. It was daytime and Itachi assumed he had been "asleep" for less than twelve hours, but when Sarutobi-sama expressed confusion at Itachi's inquiry of his fake mission and learned that he had been gone from the village for over two days Itachi was in shock.
"Your last mission was very difficult. I thought you left the village for a little R&R," Hiruzen commented from his desk, not looking at Itachi but perusing through some scrolls.
When Itachi didn't reply the Sandaime finally looked up. "Are you well, son?"
Itachi wondered how he looked. Probably confused and surprised. He nodded mechanically. "Yes, Hokage-sama."
On the journey home Itachi decided he wanted to do a little investigation. He did not doubt any of what Kanae showed him in the slightest, but the research he was about to conduct would bring a lot of doubt to the already growing pile he had for his clan.
He went straight to the Konoha Military Police Headquarters. To get by undetected he performed a teleportation jutsu into the basement of the building. The Uchiha started to make it a habit, along with the endless case files, to store the annals of the Uchiha in the bowels of the building. Only Uchihas could enter that sealed room, and after forming the hand signs, Itachi entered and closed the door, resealing himself inside. He did not want to be disturbed.
For several hours he sifted through the heavily dusted manuscripts, from fifty-years before the founding to Konoha all the way until the record of his father's birth. Going that far forward was unnecessary, but he did it anyway - twice - because Uchiha Ryosuki was nowhere to be found. There was no record of his birth.
Besides Kanae's jutsu and now his memories, there was only one other place Itachi thought he could find some form of existence of Ryosuki. Later that night when most of the Uchiha district was asleep, he went to the Naka Shrine. In the main hall, beneath the seventh mat on the far right side, Itachi slipped through the trap door. He lit a candle in the stairwell and proceeded to the bottom. After a few more hand signs to unseal a barrier jutsu, he slipped into the tablet room. All of this was unnecessary as well, because as soon as he had activated his sharingan his father had shown him access to this special place and he had read the inscriptions on the stone many times. But he had to be absolutely certain.
After meticulously looking it over three times, Itachi hung his head and let out a sigh of frustration and resignation. Nothing. His clan deliberately kept that little piece of history a secret until those that knew died with the knowledge. If it wasn't for Kanae, Itachi would have remained ignorant forever, too. He wondered what other indiscretions his clan kept hidden.
Itachi found Kanae's, once Ryosuki's, now his, necklace and ran his fingers along the chain, coming in contact with each metal ring. This...this was proof enough.
Itachi knew it would come to this, even before all of the discussions of what was to be done about his clan ever concluded. While a part of him was sickened with having been tasked with taking out his entire clan, sans Sasuke, another part of him felt wholly justified with the act. Then another part was terrified of the aftermath. He would have to leave Konoha, his beloved home, permanently. But it was all for the sake of peace, and for that it was worth it.
"State your purpose," Itachi commanded. He knew the masked man that had infiltrated the village was aware of his presence before he even spoke.
Uchiha Madara, coming back to Konoha for vengeance against the Uchiha and the village. Itachi wasn't sure if this coincidental meeting was fortunate or unfortunate, but he made a truce with him. He was to help Itachi take out the Uchiha in exchange for sparing the village. Madara readily complied.
"There is a place for you in Akatsuki. Konoha has abandoned you, threw you to the wolves."
Itachi didn't look at it that way exactly, but the crux of the matter was Itachi now had no home and would be considered a missing nin. He needed stability, shelter and protection, just long enough for Sasuke to come after him. He nodded in acknowledgement to Madara's words.
"Come. Now your training does not have to continue in such a clandestine manner. You will be a great asset to helping Akatsuki achieve its goals."
And Itachi's resolution, based on his own philosophical ideals of pacifism, his love for his brother, his love for Konoha, for the justice of one Senju princess whose life was cut short, and for a long-ago descendant whose heart-breaking story was never told, he removed the cancerous spread of the Uchiha and vowed to himself that as long as he lived he would affiliate with the Akatsuki to keep Konoha safe.