Uchiha Mikoto could never get used to how her son always looked when he got back from his missions.

Hair messed up, clothes ripped apart, drenched in blood…blood that wasn't his. His katana dripping, a few cuts, and maybe a black eye. But that wasn't the worst of it. Not by a long shot.

The worst part of it was the look in his eyes.

When Itachi came home from his first mission in ANBU, Mikoto looked him in the eye as she cleaned his cuts.

She saw pain, despair, disgust…and anger.

So much anger.

Anger towards what? Mikoto only wished she knew.

The blood was washed away. The clothes were taken off and repaired. His hair was brushed until it was smooth again. But that look never left his eyes. God, that look. She couldn't look her own son in the eyes anymore, because of the sheer depth of sorrow they held. Mikoto had never seen anything quite like it.

And it never went away.

His laughter was hollow. His smile cold. He wasn't a child. He never had been. You needed a childhood for that.

It was particularly noticeable when he was with Sasuke. He would smile at him and laugh and play, but that sadness remained. That expression of hurt betrayal.

Sasuke couldn't see it. Fugaku pretended not to.

But Mikoto noticed. She was his mother, after all. What kind of mother would she be if she didn't notice?

The same kind of mother who lets her son come home covered in somebody else's blood, her conscience scolds her. She shakes it off. Or tries to, anyway.

Itachi comes home from Shisui's house. Mikoto wonders what they've been doing, so she asks.

"Nothing much," Itachi replies, in his typical polite, deferential tone. "We were just…sort of talking."

He smiles at her. The smile is hollow. He mumbles something about preparing for a mission and heads off to his bedroom.

XxXx

There is a loud crash as some object is thrown, shattering against the wall.

They're fighting again. Mikoto watches from the doorway, afraid to interfere.

Fugaku is yelling.

Itachi is trying not to yell, but it isn't easy. Mikoto can sense the strain in his voice.

"What more do you want from me, father?" he demands, venom dripping from his voice. His body is tense, ready to strike.

"I take every mission given to me. I have a one hundred percent mission success rate. I have never been anything less than respectful to both you and the others of this clan. The only thing I ask is that I am allowed to continue to visit Shisui."

"Itachi, you know he's a bad influence on you!"

He. Is. My. Friend."

"You are no longer permitted to see him." Fugaku forced his voice to be calm and level.
"What gives you the right to do that?"

"Because I am your father."

Itachi began shaking with anger.

"Is that so?" he asked, low and dangerous. "Funny. For all the affection that I get from you, it's pretty damn hard to believe that you really are my father. I was under the impression that fathers actually wanted their kid to be happy."

Itachi might as well have hit him across the face. Which Fugaku then proceeded to do. Itachi didn't look the least bit surprised, but he took the hit anyway. Mikoto bit her lip. She was a kunoichi, for Christ's sake. She shouldn't be standing idly by while her child was hurt. But she felt frozen in place. What could she do?"

"Great parenting Fugaku, really," Itachi mocked. "I'm sure hitting me will solve everything."

Itachi gave his father a wicked glare.

"I'm not going to stop visiting my friend just because you claim he is a bad influence. He's a better influence on me than you will ever be." He turned heel and stormed out of the room.

Itachi almost made it into his room before he began sobbing. Mikoto listened to the sound sadly.

"Mother…"

Sasuke was tugging on Mikoto's skirt.

"Father and Nii-san are fighting again."

Mikoto stroked his hair comfortingly.

"It's okay. They stopped fighting, honey."

"Why do they do this, Mother? Father always makes Nii-san cry."

Mikoto sighed.

"It's okay, Sasuke. I'll go talk to Itachi."

Mikoto approached Itachi's room nervously, sliding the door open.

Itachi was curled up on his bed, completely hidden under the covers, shaking and sobbing.

Just like when he was little.

"Itachi? Are you okay, sweetheart?"

Itachi pulled the covers away and glared at her.

"Look, honey, I know you hate it when you fight with your father. But, listen, he really does-"

"I'm not crying because Fugaku and I got into another fight," Itachi said plainly.

"Then…why-"

"If he were to die tonight, or if I were to die on my next mission, then we would never have gotten the chance to make up."

He hugged his knees to his chest.

"…If I never got to say I was sorry…"

Mikoto tried to hug him. He tensed up and forced her away. Just like he had been doing since he graduated from the Academy. Ever since he was seven years old, he never let anybody hug him.

"Please just leave me alone."

Mikoto left.

He used to love his father. They used to be close. Whenever he had a nightmare, he would crawl into bed beside Fugaku, his tiny little hand gripping the larger, stronger hand of his father for comfort. Fugaku would give it a squeeze and hold him close until the tears dried up.

"Don't worry, Itachi," he would say. "I've gotcha."

He used to throw himself into Fugaku's arm the moment he got home, hugging him and laughing and saying how much he missed him. He would often ask if then could play together. Fugaku would chuckle, give him a good poke in the forehead, and say that he was tired.

"Sorry, Itachi. Maybe some other time."

Sasuke was a Mama's boy. There was no doubt about that. But Itachi…he was his father's son. Or, at least, he used to be.

Often, Mikoto found herself wondering when the rift between them had formed. How had she missed it?

…Itachi's first mission. Perhaps that was where this all started. He became Chuunin when he was only ten, and learned life's harshest lesson: that nobody was infallible, and that included his father.

He had grown quiet, drawing into himself a little further every day.

Despite herself, Mikoto found herself silently cursing the Leaf village. She wanted the peace in her home back. She wanted the love of her husband back.

She wanted her son back.

Please, please, PLEASE review *on knees begging*