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Summary: "You must know why I did it." Itachi never kept Sasuke in the dark about the truth of their clan. His brother on the run, Sasuke is left to handle the aftermath from within the village's borders, feigning ignorance as he struggles between playing the avenger and keeping his brother's will alive.
It was a taut hand on his shoulder that disrupted his inertia.
When he looked up, he saw the mask, the red war-paint bleeding melanoid hues in the darkness of the room. With a cry, he pulled away, stumbling over his own feet as he curled into himself, in the corner of the place that had once housed guests—the waiting room.
Sasuke would forever remember this place as an abattoir.
Sinking deeper into himself, he felt their approach more than heard it—his brother had been the same, with footsteps so silent it mirrored fish streamlining through the pond's water—and kept himself curled up like a fetus, willing them away as though the silence would protect him from the dark.
There were two of them, and some part of him could imagine them signing to each other in their secret language. His brother had used such gestures in the compound once, signing something that caused their cousin Shisui to laugh. Shunshin no Shisui, pride of the clan—
—dead in the water.
The Uchiha name had been everything, back then. Back then, to Sasuke, had only been the day before—encompassing even the hours before the massacre, before everything changed. He had thought it was some kind of joke, at first, or even an accident—Old Man Fukumori who lived near the entrance of the compound had been lying face down on his veranda, but everyone said the old geezer was living on borrowed time. Finding him dead wouldn't have been a surprise. Then he saw the bodies, littered every few meters, as though an epidemic had struck the earth.
It hadn't really sunk in until Itachi flicked the shuriken that grazed his shoulder.
The silence was deafening then.
The images flickered away as an unfamiliar voice scattered his thoughts.
He felt the hand on his forearm, uncovering his face, as he flinched away from the mask that greeted him. In the dark, his brother's mask appeared the same—the surrealist, minimalistic lines that accentuated the features of some kind of animal. When he asked, once, his brother had made him guess, only to reveal later on that he was the crow. When he had asked why, his brother merely stared the way he always did, with Sasuke unable to diffuse his thoughts, before dismissing him with a playful poke to the forehead.
"You're safe now," said the other, and that's when Sasuke saw the blood.
Where the masked man held his arm up to the slivers of moonlight, he saw gaudy smudges of red where his palms were, where he had attempted to push his brother away from him, the blood on the armor seeping into his skin, as his brother gripped his head tightly between the palms of his hands, the curved pinwheels coming alive in distorted Sharingan eyes—
Screaming, he threw himself back, in an attempt to pull himself away, out of the ANBU's reach. Clawing at the hand around his own, he hardly felt the pain that shuddered down his shoulder, as the other masked figure closed the distance between them, striking a point in his neck, sending him to sleep.
"Hokage-sama," The blond lowered his head respectfully, as the door swung shut behind him. A low thrum filled the air as it closed, sealing in all noise. The privacy barriers glowed from every surface in the room.
"How is he?" Hiruzen asked, focusing on the child through the altered looking glass. He had only managed to catch the end of Yamanaka Inoichi's subtle interrogation of the young boy, if it could even be called that. According to the ANBU members who found the boy, he had alternated between shrieking in hysterical terror and falling into debilitating silence. By the time Hiruzen had arrived at the department, the child had clung to the latter, sitting dejectedly as Inoichi attempted to pick at his brain, in every sense of the expression.
"I felt that it was best to forego a thorough encroachment, considering the circumstances." He frowned, unsurprised. Trauma victims tended to be more attuned to cerebral intrusion, though that same overt awareness left them just as susceptible, due to the mind overcompensating by honing in on perceived threats, leaving other spots unprotected.
"The fringes of his mind, they're frayed… though erratic," Inoichi continued, "like tectonic plates ramming into each other, disrupting their environment. From what I could see, it was a frenzied attempt at re-compartmentalizing to bury his memories of the event, but a poor one at that. He's trying to keep them down by keeping them out, and it's causing the images to resurface. The poor kid's torturing himself."
"Would sedation help?"
"It won't keep out the nightmares."
"You've confirmed the culprits?" If anyone could, he'd expect it to be the veteran interrogator before him. There was no-one he trusted in this department more than the blond, so secrecy at the present was the least of his concerns.
"Yes," Inoichi replied, "Just one. Uchiha Itachi, and it seems he caused the wound on the kid's shoulder too. He resisted aid and almost tore the wound deeper when they first brought him in. Gazelle was afraid he'd twist his own arm off, and knocked him out so Rabbit could treat him. Kid woke up screaming, though. We've kept all ANBU personnel away from him ever since."
"I'd like you to keep monitoring him. Have him moved to the hospital's restricted wing, and seal off the entire floor. Watch him from the next room, if you have to. I'll assign an ANBU squad to watch him from the shadows." Hiruzen sighed. Normally he'd assign two, but with the massacre, the village's stability came into question, and he'd need every platoon available to keep the crisis contained. He figured it would only be a matter of hours before the Fire Daimyo sent a plethora of demands and queries his way.
"Have all ANBU present at the scene debriefed," he added, "and all original copies of the reports are to be personally delivered to me, for my eyes only. I take it that there were no civilian witnesses?"
"None, sir. The crowd gathered much later, but by then, Hippo's squad had already set up a perimeter."
Hiruzen directed his attention back to the boy, whose dispirited gaze was honed in on the paper cup before him. A familiar weariness surfaced like a yoke on aging bones. He hadn't felt this disheartened since Minato's untimely sacrifice several years back, with the council's pressure riding on his shoulders, bearing down on him as he was forced to make the decision that no-one else could—to name Uzumaki Naruto a hero, while keeping his heritage in the dark. He had come to regret his decision at times, after mitigating the first two years of assassination attempts by implementing a generationally-restricted law as well as dealing out heavy-handed executions as a response to the widespread animosity towards the boy.
Uchiha Sasuke was no different—the poor boy had been a casualty of a stratagem that had threatened to spiral into civil war. The boy's own father had been a chief executor in the Uchiha clan's machinations, and the village was still recovering from the destruction dealt by the Kyuubi all those years ago. Without Minato around to quell the rumors, the village had successively placed the blame on their military police, which consequently fuelled the developing enmity between the once legendary clan and the village that they called home.
As for Itachi, the teen had been a whole other gambit in the grand scheme of things, and a casualty that made Hiruzen wonder if it was all worth it, in the end. He turned his gaze away from the boy in the adjoining room. It wouldn't do to second guess himself now.
The seals glowed brightly for a moment before lulling to a dim state of stasis as the door opened, revealing a figure that Hiruzen would recognize more easily than his own shadow. He had wondered when the man would show up.
"Hiruzen." The one-eyed man responded with something akin to a nod, settling beside him. With a short bow, Inoichi dismissed himself from the room. Danzo's eye followed the interrogator's departure.
"I'm told you're relocating the survivor?"
"Sasuke," Hiruzen replied sharply—it was always in Danzo's nature to conveniently forget a victim's name, "I'm relocating him, yes. Once the ANBU are done with cleaning up and crowd control, I've instructed them to reinforce the old seals. Only the boy and those with my permission will be able to enter the compound from now on."
"And if the traitor returns?" Danzo interjected, and Hiruzen heard the soft sneer that lined the man's voice, "Those seals bore the blood restriction, if I recall correctly. What's to stop him from returning to the scene of the crime?"
"Adjustments will be made," he appeased, already prepared for Danzo's incoming verbal barrage, "we took a blood sample from the boy's injury to weave into the restriction. If Itachi returns, he'll find the modifications… unrelenting."
"You'll take my counsel on the bodies, at least?"
He paused. "Incineration," he offered, a hand already raised in an attempt to mollify his long-time rival's response.
"You would raze the bloodline incessantly?" Danzo demanded, incredulous. "Granted, their sacrifice was great in number, but their eyes are a paragon of our military power. Our village already runs the risk of war with foreign entities, and you would let the clan's sacrifice go to waste? Many of our own have been out of commission due to loss of orbital function, and this would change all of that. The Sharingan would give us the upper hand, as evidenced by Hatake Kakashi—"
"—who, in turn, is also susceptible to greater chakra exhaustion as a result of being from a different clan."
"A reasonable exchange for heightened foresight and unparalleled mimicry, not to mention its devastating effectiveness against all forms of genjutsu out there."
"He's also a genius, which I'm sure allayed the transition. Lesser shinobi would not survive the Sharingan's adverse effects—"
"Lesser shinobi? Do you really think so little of the capabilities of your own military, Hiruzen?"
"I think only of their wellbeing, Danzo. You know that." A heavy sigh followed. "I also don't believe it's wise to allow the Sharingan to surface again, especially in such abundance. You know what the villagers associate those eyes to—"
Danzo scoffed, his gaze lingering on the privacy seals that soundproofed the room, before meeting Hiruzen's own.
"They have the Jinchuuriki for that, old friend, which you happily offered up to them on a silver platter." If he had been an inexperienced genin, he might have flinched at that retort. He knew that Danzo was still sore about that moot point; the man had wanted to keep Naruto's burden under wraps by dissolving his heritage and raising him in the shadows as a sharpened tool for the village. He, on the other hand, had wanted Naruto to be recognized as a national hero. In Kumogakure, carriers of the tailed beasts were revered as heroes and treated with the respect they deserved. He had hoped for the same with Naruto, despite the fact that what came to pass mirrored the treatment of Suna's own carrier to a certain degree.
What gave him hope was the blond child's unwavering smile and his determination to overcome the hatred by becoming the best and achieving the title of Hokage—the strongest of all. With his heritage, Hiruzen had no doubt that the boy would achieve his dream. When Naruto achieved the title of chuunin, he planned to tell him the truth about his birthright to celebrate the momentous occasion.
"Let sleeping dogs lie," was his response, "the Sharingan is a tool of war, and it brings only misery. If Madara's own descendents learned nothing from his fall, what's to stop the rest of us from committing further acts of hubris? The corpses are to be burned." He would be resolute in this. "If I hear about any deviations from these orders, I will hold you accountable, old friend."
His mother had told him once, during dinner, that he had been named after a great man. The Sandaime Hokage's own father, she had said, famous for the Sarutobi clan's initial rise to fame, with his infamous monkey-style taijutsu. All of which was eventually overshadowed by the great ascension of his own son, but those who knew Konoha's history well never forgot who it was that first partnered with the Great Monkey King Enma, and secured his eternal loyalty to the Sarutobi clan.
"What about Itachi?" he had asked, recalling no lessons in history that talked about a famous ninja with that name. He knew it had to be special, as according to his academy instructor, nobody else had had that name either. He had always attributed it to Itachi's status of being the clan's once-in-a-lifetime genius, thinking that their parents hadn't named him after anyone because they wanted him to be the first of his name, the one from whom all others would be named.
The fact that Sasuke was named after another underscored his father's expectation that he would also, like brother, bring great honor to their family—even if he was far out of Itachi's league.
He'd be like Shisui, he told himself. He didn't know if he wanted to be like his own father—though he always expected that he'd become an elder of the clan, eventually, while Itachi would lead it. Like Mitokado Homura to the Sandaime Hokage. He had always fancied the thought.
Waking up in the fluorescent room with a bandaged shoulder and a parched throat hadn't thrown him off so much as being approached by a stranger in a dark coat telling him that he was safely hidden in ANBU's T&I division. The man had introduced himself as Yamanaka Inoichi—a familiar name, like it belonged to someone else he knew, whom he just couldn't place—before taking the seat adjacent to his. A paper cup of something warm and sweet was all they gave him, which made him sick to the core, but he stomached it anyway, if only to quench his dying thirst.
The silence that followed had been dampening.
Minutes felt like hours as the man asked question after question; none of which seemed imperative, all of which went over his head. It hit him, then—
—the Yamanaka's clan specialty lies in all things pertaining to the mind, inclusive but not limited to mind-to-mind communication, psychological therapy, invasive interrogation techniques…
He thought of Old Man Fukumori, his death long overdue.
The uncle and auntie who supplied the organic tomatoes his mother packed in his lunches, their bodies splattered like the fruits they sold.
He saw hollowed, obsidian eyes, devoid of doujutsu, and shattered orbital bones…
Sometimes the crimson eyes stared back at him, from a pool of thick, gaudy red.
And a shuriken would slice into his shoulder, as he looked up to see the ANBU perched on the electrical lines overhead—
—not just any ANBU, no—
Itachi, the one from whom all others would be named—
—no, that's not right; he promised he'd teach him how to hunt—
They had gone hunting for wild boar in the neck of the woods, but Sasuke had missed. His brother had told him to get stronger, and he had been relieved that his father hadn't seen. Their mother had made them a special dinner that night, just to show them how proud she was. Her two sons hunters now, she had cooed, and father had simply grunted before asking Itachi about his next assignment.
Itachi, in turn, asked about Sasuke's day.
—how to swim—
Shisui had died in the water. He couldn't remember if the clan fished anything out, with the current so strong it rivaled an ocean's pull.
Itachi had come back darker that day, while Sasuke learned to hold his breath.
—how to drown—
The pinwheels dashed all compassion as he met them head-on, his face trapped between his brother's bloody fingers as the world dropped dead around them, the blackness waltzing in… and there was something he couldn't quite place—
"—You must know why I did it."
He fingered the cup, letting the stranger's voice draw him up as he siphoned that last thought away. If the eyes were windows to the soul, he wasn't planning on giving the Yamanaka a free pass anytime soon.
Drawing his knees up to his chest, he evoked the images once more.
"You would pull him down a darker road…" Hiruzen's expression was pained, his forehead creasing with lines that accentuated his age, but Danzo merely scoffed.
"Hundreds dead, and you don't think he's already found it? His brother's a traitor, for all given purposes, and we cannot run the risk of this boy doing the same. I can mold him into a warrior this village needs."
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