Disclaimer: Hold on, 'cause I'm coming to take it.

Summary: In an attempt to change the past, Itachi finds himself in an alternate reality where the Yondaime survived at a terrible cost, and Shisui was hailed as the clan prodigy instead. With his plans and foreknowledge falling to pieces, Itachi must strive to protect his brother, save his clan, and prevent the oncoming civil war looming in the wake of this new, convoluted world…


Ethos

By intoxicatedasphyxiation


.01

He woke by the riverbed, gasping for air.

Finding that he could breathe with a set of lungs that didn't burn with every inhalation, Itachi simmered down as he leaned up on his elbows, surveying the scene.

Memories of a drowning surfaced in his mind as he took in the stretch of water, the great divide between east and west of an old training ground. By recognition, he found himself on the side closest to home.

Diagonally to his left sat a child, trowel in hand and poking at the dirt like it was sand. A familiar mop of obsidian hair jutted out at odd angles on the child's head. Around his neck hung the customary wide, open collar of all Uchiha shirts, and his shorts were of the shinobi variant too. So were his shoes.

"Sasuke," he asserted, his mind already attaching the name to a face as though it was common truth. With that followed the surge, a bombardment of images from a time and place that was not quite his own.

The boy spun around attentively, dropping the trowel as Itachi drew himself to an upright position.

He was met with an incoming blur of blue and black that dive-bombed onto his chest.

"Nii-san," cuddled the boy, fisting his collar with small hands and breathing deeply into the front of his shirt. Itachi's eyes widened at the act.

"Train me!" his little brother demanded, fixating Itachi with a disarming pout that though cute, seemed almost aggressive.

He returned the mini-assault with an almost bewildered gaze. Even in the past, Sasuke had never behaved this petulantly. Or had he? He filtered through his memories, and a mélange of flashbacks barraged his mind.

Itachi wondered if he was misremembering. Had the time fall disarrayed his true memories?

Sasuke's forehead furrowed, as though perturbed by his silence. He folded his hands over the boy's own, undoing the tight clutches as he lifted the boy off his body, lowering him onto the ground beside him. He eyed his own hands as he did so—they seemed smaller, younger. Healthier too. He surveyed the rest of his body—he was definitely shorter than before, and his clothes had been replaced with his old clan attire, loose fitting and black in its entirety.

"We should get going," he murmured, attempting to placate the boy by ruffling his messy hair. Picking himself up, he patted down his clothes, before taking Sasuke's hand into his own. "Maybe we'll get something to eat, along the way." The boy sulked, exasperated as he pulled away from Itachi's grasp.

"I'm a ninja," he declared, puffing up his chest as he hurried to match Itachi's pace, "I walk my own path."

Itachi said nothing to that, a slight twitch of amusement threatening to pull his lips into a grin. He lifted a hand to his mouth, surprised at the subconscious reaction—it wasn't often that he smiled so easily, and it was something he went to great lengths to control. Disquieted, he turned away from the boy, schooling his features into his usual, impassive demeanor, before continuing the rest of the journey in silence.

They reached the civilian-owned shop lots as they took the longer route through the town square, and he looked up to see the four heads of Konoha's leadership carved into the giant monument. His restful feeling was disturbed by an agitated pooling at the pit of his chest. He clutched at his heart, pulling to a stop in front of an open dango stand. Sasuke noticed the reaction, his crossed expression waning into one of curious concern.

"Nii-san…" he trailed off, as Itachi lowered his hand, carefully steadying his hand on the bar lining the food stand. Sasuke returned to his side, tugging anxiously on the base of his shirt.

The vendor owner's mouth twisted into a tight scowl.

"You're disrupting my business," he stated harshly, shooing them away with a pompous wave of his hand. There wasn't a single customer in sight.

"Why you—" Sasuke started, returning the stranger's challenging gaze with a glower of his own.

"That's enough," Itachi said commandingly, gently guiding his brother away from view. Turning towards the stall owner, he gave the man a respectful bow of apology, his eyes properly downcast. "I apologize for any inconveniences caused by both my brother and me." He resisted the sharp tug in his chest that made his words leave a sour taste on his tongue. An internal voice seemed to chide him for his decision, and he envisioned himself smugly justifying and kicking over the man's food cart. He dismissed the unnatural, otherworldly thought, brushing it off as another strange play on his imagination.

Running a hand over his shirt, he placed a hand on Sasuke's back, leading him away from the discourteous man. His brother was looking up at him with an affronted, perplexed gaze.

"Why did you apologize to him like that?" he almost shouted, his small fists curling tightly into his palms, "You didn't do anything wrong and he was so rude about it—" The young boy's eyes flashed angrily, and his voice lilted in a way that made Itachi wonder if he was on the brink of tears.

"Otouto." Crouching down, he calmly addressed the boy at eye-level, his hands encircling the boy's shoulders. "In life, you'll find that not all people are friendly and easy to deal with. There will always be those who are less accommodating than others, for reasons you may never come to know. You have to try and put yourself into their shoes and understand where they're coming from."

"But I don't want to wear his shoes," Sasuke added sulkily, looking away. Itachi gently tilted his brother's chin up, reconnecting their gaze.

"Tell me," he said quietly, "what do you think would have happened if you had started a fight with that man?"

Sasuke mumbled something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like "I'd kick his ass", before silencing himself and fixating Itachi with a self-indulgent pout.

"You consider yourself a shinobi, do you not?" Itachi asked, in full seriousness. He didn't enjoy goading the younger boy, but he wanted his full attention—he would ensure his brother took this seriously.

"Obviously," was his exasperated response.

He fixed the boy with a straight stare. "Then you should know that shinobi are forbidden from attacking civilians, barring extenuating circumstances. Imagine if the conflict had gotten physical. Not only would you have disrupted a public commercial avenue, but you would have also assaulted a civilian citizen of your own village. That in itself is enough to earn a court-martial. If you had been taken to court, you would have been found guilty of being in the wrong." He watched as the boy's eyes widened in consternation. "Furthermore, no judge would rule in your favor if the man had been injured, and I'm not even taking into account the use of ninjutsu or genjutsu." Sasuke started to tremble uncomfortably under his hold, drawing the attention of a few passers-by. Itachi ignored them all.

"You must also remember who we represent," he added wearily, squeezing the boy's hand, "as befitting our clan's status, we must behave as custom dictates, and nothing less. When someone mistreats you or attempts to pull you down, you must never sink to their level."

Sasuke looked at him in confounding shock, as though he was seeing a whole other person in his place. Itachi reflected on his words and recognition dawned upon him—he was emulating a speech repeatedly instilled upon him by their father many, forgotten years ago. Had Sasuke been on the receiving end of those very same lectures?

Back then, he hadn't been around often enough to know.

He resolved to make time for his little brother this time around.

"Let's go home," he said, getting up to shuffle the doleful boy back towards their compound.

He missed the astounded stare his brother gave him.


Upon seeing their house, Sasuke ran ahead, peeling off his shoes unceremoniously as he stumbled into the yard. Itachi stayed behind, sauntering at his own unhurried, casual pace.

Everything was as it used to be, and a wave of nostalgia inundated him.

He hadn't missed the looks, though, that he had received upon entering the clan compound. Some were scathing, reminiscent of the time closest to the massacre, when his own father had disowned him in all but name. His brother had clung onto him then, as though claiming him under his protection, but it had done little to alleviate the withering glares.

A cluster of dread seized him as he wondered if he had arrived too late. What if he had under a week left? What could he do then?

His brother called his name, and he snapped out of his daze, crossing the threshold of his family's compound like a stranger trespassing uncertain ground.

The first thought to hit him felt out of place, yet awfully a lot like a conventional truth. In a voice that sounded like his own, it said: this isn't home.

He pushed aside the foreboding thought.

Carefully removing his shoes and laying them under the veranda, he stepped across the hardwood floor, the sliding door open from where Sasuke had squeezed through. Pulling it further back, he looked in to see the silhouette of his younger brother, who was bouncing up and down on one of the kitchen stools, chatting excitedly to another figure hidden by the hallway corner.

"—and then nii-san brought me back! See? See?" the younger Uchiha almost fell off the chair in an attempt to leap off and drag his older brother forward.

Itachi rounded the corner just in time to see the back of the woman he had once called mother.

And cut her down too, said the voice almost condescendingly. He felt the pain creeping into his chest, his right hand twitching as he resisted the move to reach up again—it wouldn't do to give his brother another scare.

The woman known as Uchiha Mikoto turned around, a tomato in one hand, a knife in another, as a pleasant but guarded smile underlined her loving features.

"Okaa-san," he greeted formally, tilting his head respectfully as he put a hand on Sasuke's head, ruffling the struggling boy's hair. Her posture loosened up, and she looked relieved at the sight. Itachi regarded her reaction pensively, as a boiling kettle went off and she spun around to tend to it.

His eyes didn't miss the diagonal scar that marred her skin, beginning at her right collarbone before disappearing down the center of her breasts, blocked only by the apron and her loose fitting shirt as she turned off the stove, setting the kettle down onto a thick, wooden coaster.

Another foreign memory untagged itself from the corner of his brain, and he knew that the long scar had been caused during a wartime infiltration mission gone wrong, stemming from her right collarbone down to her left waistline. Itachi froze—last he remembered and he remembered his parents well, his mother had never been so physically scarred, up until the time of the massacre when he had cut her down.

"Are you alright?" Mikoto asked, catching onto his gaze self-consciously, adjusting the top of her apron as he regarded her impassively, all internal distress stored skillfully away.

"Allow me," he said fluently, reaching out to take the tomato from her hand, his other hand outstretched towards her knife and she flipped it over, handing it to him with the finesse of a kunoichi-trained-chef. Taking the handle, he sliced the tomato dexterously on the chopping board, matching the thin slices his mother had already set aside.

"Wow," Sasuke mouthed as he watched Itachi finely slice up another.

"There is a special technique taught only in Mizu no Kuni, that when mastered, would allow the chef to perfectly peel off the skin of any fruit or vegetable with the curved tip of a blade, which would then be rolled up into the shape of a flower for the purpose of symbolizing mastery in gourmet cuisine." Itachi said to his awestruck brother, dicing the last. "If you'd like, I could give you a demonstration. Another time, perhaps."

"I didn't realize you were a world class chef," his mother said, both surprised and amused. "You've never shown interest in helping out before." He paused at the comment, staring blankly ahead.

"The desire for knowledge is a powerful thing," he replied carefully, carrying the knife and chopping board over to the sink, "and with travelling comes the chance to learn new things." He turned to his brother. "Once you start taking missions, you'll have plenty of opportunities to do the same."

His mother hovered closer, watching over his shoulder as he washed the utensils, letting them dry on the rack. She stepped back as he turned around, and he found his eyes unconsciously wandering over his mother's visible scar.

"You've changed," she said, folding her arms across her chest.

"How so?" he asked, spotting the mini calendar on the fridge. Walking over, he eyed the date with an inward sigh of relief. There was plenty of time left. Had he been made an ANBU squad captain yet? The time sounded about right. His heightened security clearance would grant him all the resources he needed.

And yet… the timing failed to explain the hostile looks his fellow clan members had fired at him earlier. As the youngest member of the clan in the ANBU black ops, he had been their pride and joy, had he not? Their celebrated child prodigy. Had something happened to change all that? Did his reappearance in the past effectuate ripples in the time stream to alter pre-determined events? Was this the rumored butterfly effect? The false memories and his mother's scar did little to ease his dread and only served to disorient his thoughts.

"You seem older," his mother offered, "and more composed."

"Must be the missions," he supplied sagely, "they serve to age us; to wear a person down."

His response seemed to startle his mother, and she demurely looked down, just as another figure entered the room.

"Otou-san," Sasuke said, perking up at the sight of the incomer, "Nii-san brought me home today."

"Otou-sama," Itachi greeted, bowing his head respectfully, before meeting the man's sharp gaze.

The man acknowledged him with a silent once-over, before placing his hand on Sasuke's head, asking about the boy's day.

Itachi's expression hardened at the exchange.

Never, during this period the first time around, had his father ever ignored him in favor of his younger brother. Not once had the man ever displayed a sliver of affection or attention for the younger soul, and when he did, it was never so openly either. It wasn't quite jealousy that plagued him then, as he knew more than well enough the sort of pressure that came with Fugaku's attention, but rather the complete inaccuracy of the situation. This was not supposed to happen yet.

Sasuke proceeded to update their father about his day as his mother watched him awkwardly from the corner of the kitchen. Itachi found her stare overbearing—simply because he couldn't understand why she was doing it.

"I think I'll return to my room," he excused himself, maneuvering around the kitchen table. "There are some things… I have to check up on."

"Will you be staying for dinner… at least?" his mother asked, and he hesitated at the doorway. He caught his father shooting her a reprimanding look, while Sasuke looked more than thrilled at the prospect.

Don't stay, said the voice. Get out while you can.

"Yes," he replied, watching his brother's pleading eyes, "I believe I will."


His room was as he remembered it, tucked away behind the first corridor conjoined to the living room. It provided the easiest access to the various doors littered around the house, accommodating his constant need to escape before dawn for the purpose of missions and ANBU training sessions.

It rarely gathered dust, despite his lengthy missions away from home, as both he and his mother were meticulous souls. He would often leave his door open as a sign that she could enter when he was out, as he was a minimalist—few things cluttered his room, and his accumulated possessions were more for function, not form.

The room before him now, however, was undusted and disheveled.

There was a light stuffiness in the air that indicated his room hadn't been touched by anyone at all, for at least the last few months. All the windows had been tightly sealed, and one of the Uchiha clan symbols on the window panes had been vandalized with the edge of an angry blade.

Scattered books and scrolls cluttered his bed, and shards of broken glass lined the floor by his bedside table. He recognized the utility pouches he had used during his ANBU stint lying on the dresser, its contents scattered viciously. He picked up a stray shuriken from the floor, setting it evenly onto the desk. It wasn't long before old, ingrained habits kicked in and he found himself gathering the rest of the weapons back into the pouch. The portable mirror on his dresser had been downturned. Setting it upright, he trailed a finger along its cracked lines, the distorted reflection greeting him mesmerizingly. Lifting it up, he gazed at his reflection, wondering if a different person was staring back.

He activated his Sharingan.

Three tomoe stared back, the Mangekyou nonexistent in his eyes. Itachi wasn't surprised. He had known what he would be sacrificing in exchange for the trip. What he planned to gain was even bigger, and he already knew all the Sharingan's tricks.

Replacing the mirror, he moved to clear up the mess on his bed. He recognized the titles as things he had read during his youth—books on advanced military tactics, as well as foreign ninjutsu, and subjects of every genre out there. What he didn't recognize was the advanced guide to sealing, peppered with notes along the corners in his own handwriting. He also found the heavily coded ANBU code of conduct, and was pleased to find that he could still understand it as easily as reading kanji. Some parts, however, had been blanked out with thick, deliberately unwieldy brushstrokes that defaced the scroll. It was also heavily crumpled, as though it had been repeatedly taken out and stored away. Even the seal that once held it shut no longer worked.

When he found the cracked porcelain fragment from a once familiar mask, the full bearing of the situation crashed upon him like the harshest of waves during a storm.

Suddenly, everyone's discordant treatment of him began to make sense.

And yet it didn't.

He fingered the painted piece, its dark ink the last remnants of a crow.

Whatever this was, it wasn't supposed to have happened.

"Amaterasu…" Itachi whispered, more as a prayer than a curse.


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