Down the Road
"I don't even know where to begin. Your circumstances—everything you have been put through is unspeakable. There is no way that the village can repay you for the sacrifices you've made for its sake. Who knows how many lives you have saved? I swear that, this will not be kept quiet anymore—it can't be. The end of this war is a new beginning for Konoha and I feel we must begin by righting the wrongs of the past. I swear that everyone will know what you have done for Konoha and Fire Country. They'll all know the truth. You will be cleared of all charges and your name honored in the village or I will die trying to make it so."
Itachi comprehended the situation and the words coming from the Godaime Hokage's mouth, but he could not believe it was real.
This had not been his plan. Sasuke should have killed him, should have been sitting here in his place being promised a new beginning. But things had spiraled out of his control. His little brother had begun to walk a path that Itachi could never have foreseen him taking, his plans to break the boy and engineer his own death by his little brother's hands having worked out not at all how he had wanted. He had seen it for himself, had been keeping tabs on Sasuke's slow descent down the same path the rest of their clan had taken and he could not stand by and watch that happen.
He had barely survived his brother's attack, pulled back from the edge of death by Kisame. His brother had been taken away by Madara, the Kiri-nin had explained hastily as he stitched Itachi's wounds closed even though neither of them knew quite why he was doing so. Sasuke had been told the truth about their clan's demise and had sworn to destroy Konoha for his clan and his brother.
"The villages are bracing themselves for a war."
"I would hope so, since it is coming. That cannot be denied."
"I have been loyal to Madara for some time. From the beginning, really," Kisame confessed as his pale eyes glowed an unearthly white in the light of the fire that burned between them. "This plan of his is nothing new to me. Pein, the others, you, and me—we've all been his puppets. Your little brother is just another one like us now." He rubbed his forehead. "I don't know why I stepped in. I know you well enough to know you aren't about to get on board with Madara's plan, but… you've always been a friend to me, Itachi, and I know it wasn't in the plan for little brother to end up like this."
Itachi was standing, holding his bloodied, cloud-patterned cloak over the flames and watching impassively as it caught fire. He let it burn a little before dropping it and letting it be consumed whole. He allowed himself to relish the sight just a little. His movements were rigid so as not to pull on the stitches that Kisame had put in to close his wounds and to not strain his exhausted, aching muscles. "You have been a good friend to me all of these years as well, Kisame. At times, I trusted you even when I did not trust myself and I will always value that," he said finally. "But I cannot let Madara's plans to come to fruition. His is not a world I will have for anyone; not my village or anyone else's. So, if you are still loyal to his cause then we are now enemies and only one of us can leave this camp alive."
The blue man said nothing for some time before he began to chuckle and his lips parted just enough to reveal his razor-filled maw. He—the man himself and his beastly appearance—had never frightened Itachi. The Akatsuki was an organization of monsters, but Kisame was the least of them as far as Itachi was concerned. The ex-Kiri-nin was not a saint by a long shot, but nor was he.
"You have always had a flair for cutting to the marrow of things, Itachi," Kisame said before hefting himself up to his feet.
Itachi instinctively braced himself for an assault and for a moment they simply stood facing one another.
"A long time ago," Kisame began, almost contemplatively as he raised one hand and began undoing the catches of his cloak, "Madara promised me a world without sin; a world of truth. But I've been thinking and his plan… it's just another lie. It's his lie, but a lie all the same." He shrugged out of the cloak one shoulder at a time and then caught it before it could fall to the ground. He rubbed the worn fabric between his fingertips and then shook his head. Reaching out, he held it over the fire like his partner had and the flames were nearly licking his wrist before he finally let it go. For a moment that seemed to last a short eternity, he stared into the blaze and then his eyes met Itachi's again. "The truth is that you're the only one who's ever told me the truth. So I will go where you go, Itachi."
It was only by the very tips of his fingers that Itachi was able to reach out and pull Sasuke back from the point of no return. By then, Danzo was dead, but that was a service to Konoha by every measure. Then there was the war. A nightmare by all accounts, but Itachi was glad to have witnessed it. To know that the villages could align themselves at such a time held hope for the future. That and it had been gratifying to save lives rather than take them for the first time in so many years; to fight alongside his countrymen and not against them; to be at his brother's side and not his opponent.
He raised his eyes to meet those of the Godaime Hokage's and then looked back to the campfire that burned between them. "I am glad to hear this, Lady Tsunade."
Tsunade hummed at this as she watched him. "You don't seem glad," she replied.
A wry smile twisted one corner of his lips. "Forgive me. I had been quite prepared to be dead long before this so I am somewhat out of sorts." He frowned to himself at this and met her eyes again. "Sasuke…?"
"He hasn't been seen by anyone since Madara's fall," Tsunade answered with a shake of her head. "We have teams searching for him—as many as can be spared now—and many others are keeping watch, but we haven't heard anything yet."
"Will he be pardoned as well?"
"Your circumstances are enormously different, but it can be managed, I think. We're in the position to be quite forgiving, you see." She let out a long breath. "I have never been deluded about what it means to be a ninja. Sometimes, lesser evils must be countenanced for the sake of the greater good, but what happened to you and your clan… Konoha is supposed to be better than that. Or it ought to be. It will be in the future if I have anything to say about it."
"I do not regret what I had to do for the sake of my village."
Tsunade scoffed. "That isn't the point," she replied dismissively. She sighed and rubbed at her eyes with the forefinger and thumb of one hand. "It'll take some time for it to be on paper and official given the mess we have to clean up here, but even so you may consider yourself a cleared man, Itachi, and, for whatever it's worth, I'm sorry. For everything."
Itachi stared into the fire for a while before nodding. "I appreciate that. I will be forgiven, I hope, if I do not return immediately to the village."
He nodded. "Thank you, Lady Tsunade. You should go and join the festivities. You will be missed."
The woman rose to her feet just as Kisame stepped into the circle of the firelight. The swordsman inclined his head toward her respectfully and she nodded in reply before whisking off into the dark that shrouded the small campsite. They were not even a half-klick away from the nearest camp of the allied forces, where neither Itachi nor Kisame felt they quite belonged even though moods and spirits were high after the victory and this could be the first time in a long time that either one of them might have been welcomed anywhere.
Kisame settled down heavily onto the earth opposite of Itachi. Again, the campfire burned between them, mere embers now in the circle of rocks. "So?" the swordsman prompted curiously. "That sounded like it went well."
Itachi hummed. "I am a free man," he said with no small amount of audible wonder in his tone. "What of you?"
"Well, the Godaime Mizukage told me to stay the hell away from Water and out of her hair," Kisame answered with an indifferent sort of shrug as he folded his hands behind his head and reclined back into the grass. "I think that means we're good."
The Uchiha smiled softly at this. "Congratulations."
"Likewise. Have you heard anything about the little Uchiha?"
Itachi shook his head. "No. Sasuke has not been heard from or seen since victory was declared. I suspect that he will not be for some time, if I know him as I think I do."
Kisame made a throaty, non-committal grunt in reply. Then, after the quiet had long settled between them, he asked: "So, where to now?"
"Anywhere we wish, I suppose," Itachi replied. "But Kisame, even though I would greatly appreciate your company, you are hardly obligated to continue following me."
The swordsman snorted as he closed his eyes. "And I told you: I will go where you go," he answered simply.
The Uchiha hummed at this and what might have been a smile pulled at one corner of his lips again. "And if Konoha had decided to drag me off in chains?" he wondered.
Kisame grinned and it was quite menacing even with his eyes still closed. "Well, I've never seen the inside of a Konoha prison cell before and it would've been fun busting out," he replied. He frowned contemplatively and then cracked open an eye to regard his companion. "Hm, kinda sounds like a party, now. I wonder if they'd still do that if we asked."
For the first time in years—certainly for the first time in the that eight Kisame had known him—Itachi started to laugh. It was a genuine, open-mouthed laughter that pulled his mouth into a wide smile and creased his eyes with happiness. "Perhaps," he agreed. He shook his head as his mirth subsided slowly and he reached to take another log from the pile of them at his left. He threw it onto the fire and then drew one knee up to his chest to perch his chin upon it as glowing bits of ash lifted up on the breeze and then faded into the dark above them. "We will leave before dawn tomorrow. I will take first watch."
They did leave before first light the next morning. Only in time would they know if the Kages upheld their promises to clean their respective slates, but neither of them had any pressing desire to linger and see that out for themselves.
Not sure what else to do, Itachi decided to go in search of his brother (and not choke on the irony of the turnaround). When asked if he objected, Kisame had laughed and wondered if they had anything better to do and no, no they did not. Water Country would probably never welcome Kisame back and for Itachi the idea of returning to Konoha was a strangely numbing one, as it was something that he had never viewed within the realm of the possible and therefore had never considered. As he had told Tsunade, he had long planned to be dead and he was still not quite accustomed to the idea of being quite the opposite. He wondered if time would also eventually amend that.
They kept an ear out in the following months, listening in the towns and hamlets they passed through for news on how the great villages were faring and while progress was slow things seemed to be boding quite well. The alliance was still in place if only because no one could afford true enemies at this point in time. As for their promised pardons, they had not encountered anything more than the occasional, weary glance from passerby.
Time wore on and eventually when Sasuke's trail went cold somewhere in the far northern reaches if Lightning Country almost a year after their search had started, Itachi decided that they were finished looking for the time being. Kisame had clapped a consoling hand on his shoulder and declared it for the best. Then, since it was drawing very near winter, they decided to take up residence in the first tiny, ocean-side hamlet they came across where two able bodies were more than welcomed by the meager population.
For Itachi it was simultaneously very strange and exceptionally refreshing to find himself doing things like repairs and carpentry for the locals, including fixing the roof of the house that belonged to the ancient woman that had agreed to take him and Kisame in for the season. Kisame himself, of whom the villagers had been quite leery at first, had proved invaluable in helping the local fishermen fortify the docks for the coming winter.
"Compliments of our esteemed hostess' orchard."
Kisame laughed and caught the apple Itachi threw at him. He was perched at the end of one dock, water running in rivulets down his bare back and arms and dripping down off his feet and the cuffs of his trousers into the water below. Itachi took up a seat on a nearby piling and bit into the apple he had brought for himself. The day was bright and clear, but the air was brisk and piercing foretelling what was to be expected of the oncoming season. Even the warm currents that flowed north from the southern waters wouldn't keep it at bay forever.
"I hope there's more than this for dinner," Kisame said.
"When I left it was still cooking," Itachi replied. "However, when I attempted to check its progress I was reprimanded quite harshly with a wooden spoon. I decided not to press the issue."
Kisame laughed and then he bit into the apple. "Not sure how she does it with vision worse than yours," he muttered. "Speaking of which…?"
"Since I have ceased using my Sharingan, my symptoms have eased," the Uchiha replied with a shake of his head. "It is nothing to be concerned about at present."
"Except you're going to be in a bit of a bind eventually," Kisame answered. "What about that village of yours? All those fancy medics and no one can help you out? I mean, you might as well make use of it if you're clear to go back there now."
Itachi shrugged. "There might be someone—the Godaime, perhaps," he said. "But I am not quite prepared to return yet. Besides, I have grown rather accustomed to my impairments, so I hardly notice them anymore."
"Yeah, but maybe in the spring we'll head that way and stay long enough to get you patched up."
They didn't. They left in the spring with the village's promise that they would be welcomed there any time they needed shelter. From there they did head south but only to go west toward Wind Country. There hadn't been much work in the winter, so money was a priority and they had heard in Sound that Wind was having troubles with bandit activity stirred up by an influx of criminals from Rain, who were eager to take advantage of the fact that many of the country's ninja were still abroad dealing with the aftermath of the war even a year later. The Kazekage was offering payment per head and while Itachi was not particularly fond of the idea of being reduced to bounty hunting, they had little choice in the matter.
It proved to be a non-issue, though. Instead of participating, Itachi simply watched the fights from atop a nearby dune and let Kisame amuse himself with the bandits' numbers since there was not enough skill present among the rabble to sufficiently challenge either of them.
"Fifty-six criminals at six hundred ryo a piece," Itachi said once they had sealed the bodies away into scrolls to be transported. "That is nearly thirty-four thousand ryo."
Kisame wiped at a bit of sweat beading on his brow. "Not bad for being here just two days," he said. "Should we test the waters by going right into Suna?"
"You are just hoping for a confrontation."
"Hey, I'm not denying it. I was nice and bored all winter and I deserve some kind of reward for that."
Itachi chuckled as he sealed away the last body. "Yes, but Konoha has been very kind by keeping their end of the agreement thus far and not pestering us with hunting parties. We had best not press the issue by annoying one of their dearest allies."
With that he summoned a crow and Kisame's lips turned in a way that might have been mistaken for a pout as the bird carried off the scroll. "Killjoy," he muttered, watching the bird disappear in the glare of the sun.
As they were two people accustomed to always taking orders, Itachi and Kisame were wryly amused to find themselves somewhat at a loss for what to do with their time now that it was their truly own. But moving from place to place had a comfortable sort of familiarity to it, so they never settled anywhere for more than a month or two at a time. They earned money doing odd jobs in the towns they settled near or by bounty hunting and then eventually they moved on when it suited them.
Itachi continually dismissed the idea of returning to Konoha and Kisame never pressed the issue beyond initially bringing it up. Itachi's eyes were not getting worse by any considerable measure and while the occasional migraine left him in crippling pain he was too stubborn to allow it to hinder him.
As for Kisame, he knew himself well enough to expect to grow tired of this relatively peaceful existence, but it hadn't yet lost his interest. He had grown up cradled in the bosom of bloodshed and slaughter and while it had initially been unnerving to no longer need to be on guard, he found that after a while he quite enjoyed it. Because of his blood, he had been born as a slave to Kiri and then he had given himself over to the masked man and his empty promises, but now he was free and what a curious thing that was—he was free.
He tried never to give much thought to these things—he tried not to give much thought to anything for the most part—but he found himself mulling them over as he stood in the shallowest part of the river, where the water just reached his waist.
In a few weeks it'd be five years since the war, something that was still hard for him to really believe. But it was some kind of landmark; an anniversary he felt he ought to at least remember. Maybe he'd go back to the old monastery that he and Itachi had called home all winter and have a drink to mark the occasion, just in case they were on the road again by the time the day actually rolled around.
Dinner first, though. He and Itachi had been in a friendly competition ever since Itachi had managed to successfully hunt a deer with ten-points on its antlers, which beat Kisame's previous record of a nine-point. But fishing was something no one would ever best him at or he'd eat his own sword.
"There you are."
He had heard and smelled her as she neared the shoreline, but she also hadn't been attempting to cover her approach. She smelled like spiced tea and the whiff of black powder on the breeze had given her away as a ninja rather than a civilian, but he wasn't immediately concerned. "I hope you're not here to kill me. I'm kind of in the middle of something."
"If anyone would be stupid enough to attack you while standing on a river bank, they would deserve to die. I just want to talk."
Kisame grinned a little to himself as he watched the trout swimming just beneath the glossy surface of the water. Smart girl. She sounded pretty young still, so he decided to kindly spare her faith in their species by not mentioning that some people in the past had been stupid enough to do just that. "Konoha-nin?" he wondered as his eyes continued to follow the shadows swimming around his knees.
"How do you know that? You haven't even looked at me."
He shrugged. "People from Fire Country always drink this weird, spicy tea that gets shipped out of the Capital there," he replied. "You lot always smell like it to some degree or another."
"Yep. Konoha-nin smell like spiced tea, Kiri-nin smell like sea-salt and this kind of moss that grows everywhere on the islands, Kumo-nin smell like Ozone—ha!"
He snatched two trout out of the river, one in each hand, and then turned to look at the bank and show them off.
The girl standing there surprised him a little since he actually recognized her—or he thought he did; pink hair wasn't really something he came across very often, not even in all of his years of travel. It was up in a high swishing ponytail, with her head band tied to hold the stray pieces away from her face. She was a pretty little thing, slim and petite, wearing white shorts and a red, silk coat that reached her mid-thigh. The coat had long, loose sleeves and was held closed with a leather belt that rested cock-eyed on her because of the uneven weight of the pouches that hung from it. She had a standard issue holster strapped to one thigh and her boots stretched up clear to her knees, fronted with metal shin-guards.
Kisame tossed her one of the fish as he waded closer to the bank and she caught it with ease and just the mildest looks of confusion. He chuckled and then snapped the neck of the fish he still had before tossing it onto his shirt, which he had abandoned in the weeds on the bank.
"So, what do you want?" he asked.
"Was that necessary?" she wondered as he took the second fish from her, her eyes concentrated on the other fish.
"Better than letting them suffocate," he replied, snapping the second fish's spine with just as much ease as the first and then throwing its body onto his shirt as well.
Her forehead wrinkled a little at this, but she had seemingly shaken it off by time she looked back to him. "Where's Uchiha Itachi?"
"I have something to deliver to him."
She sighed. "You really needn't be so suspicious," she replied. "You were both pardoned after the war and if I was going to attack you I wouldn't have made my presence known first."
"Force of habit," Kisame answered with a shrug as he hooked his thumbs in the waist of his trousers. "So?"
The girl rolled her eyes. "It's a letter from the Hokage," she said. "I'd tell you what it was, but he really ought to be the first to hear it."
He eyed her for a moment longer and then snapped his fingers when realization suddenly struck him. "I remember who you are now," he said. "You were with the Kyuubi brat, right? One of his teammates. One of Sasuke's too, I think."
"Yes on both accounts," she replied. "Naruto is my partner on this mission, actually. It being more of a diplomatic endeavor, we're considering it practice for the future."
"Yeah? Where is he?"
"We split up. He chose to continue to search for Itachi when I decided to look for you instead. I think he still remembers pretty vividly when you talked about cutting his legs off to make him easier to carry."
Kisame laughed aloud, all of his teeth bearing at once into a smile. "Good times," he said cheerfully. "You'll have to say hi for me if I don't see him myself."
She rolled her eyes, but a smile pulled at her mouth anyway. "Will you take me to Itachi, now?"
He shrugged. "Can't hurt, I guess." He stepped up onto the bank and then knelt down to scoop up his shirt—fish and all—and then gestured toward the path. "So, why did you come looking for me if it's Itachi you want?"
"There wasn't much of an actual trail for us to follow out of the town nearby and asking the locals about a dark-haired young man living in the area wasn't getting us anywhere," the girl explained. "However asking them about a large, blue man with gills? Yeah, that got much more useful results."
Kisame grinned. "Yeah, I've never been much for blending in," he replied.
"I wouldn't have guessed."
He laughed again and she smiled back pleasantly before offering out her hand to him to shake. It was still weird, to a man who'd been so accustomed to being an outlaw and a criminal, to be met with any kind of open friendliness.
"I'm Haruno Sakura."
He raised an eyebrow at the proffered hand but then accepted it. She had a grip like a vice and he grinned. "Hoshigaki Kisame."
Itachi knew the boy, of course. The whole of the shinobi world knew the boy who was credited with stopping the war. Uzumaki Naruto, the Kyuubi vessel, the son of the Yellow Flash, and undoubtedly a future Hokage of Konoha. His little brother's one-time best friend. He had tried to kill the boy once and was grateful that he had failed.
And the boy—the savior of the ninja world and a hero in every village—was knelt in front of him, his body bowed and his forehead resting lightly on the dusty floor he had been sweeping when Kisame had come down the path with the two Konoha-nin. The blond boy had been hiding slightly behind the girl, who had seemed quite engrossed in her conversation with Kisame.
The boy straightened to sit back on his heels and Itachi looked again from him to the letter he held in his own hand. It was marked with both the seal of the Hokage and the seal of the Fire Country Daimyo and offered, in no uncertain terms, apologies on the behalves of their offices and the pardons of both as well as their gratitude. It promised him everything in writing that Tsunade had promised with her words five years ago, yet it hadn't felt quite as real then as this did. Eventually, he had thought, they would come for him again. The offer was made on the high of victory and in the wake of a war, but it'd eventually be revoked.
"Kakashi wanted me to apologize for it havin' taken so long," Naruto said when Itachi finally looked to him again. "It wasn't easy sortin' through Danzo's mess and then the war clean-up and the village is just now getting back on its feet. Paperwork's a bitch. The evidence stash you told Baa-chan about helped a lot, because we all know that Danzo was a fuckin' rat, but the Daimyo's kind of a moron too so we had to be convincing—don't tell anyone I said that about the Daimyo, though"
"Kakashi?" Itachi repeated with a frown. "The Copy-nin?"
Rokudaime, he realized belatedly.
"Yeah, Baa-chan retired about six months ago," the blond replied.
"Is she well?"
"Oh, yeah she's fine," Naruto said. "It's just that she's gettin' old and she figured that this would look good as Kakashi's first official act as Hokage or somethin'—come in with a bang or whatever. You didn't hear about it?"
Itachi shook his head. "We have made it a point to stay out of the way of the larger villages and news travels very slowly out here," he answered.
Naruto nodded and opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a thunderous crash and then booming laughter that Itachi knew immediately to be Kisame. After the girl had shoved Naruto forward with instructions to "try not to sound like an idiot", she and Kisame had made themselves scarce so as not to intrude on what they must have seen as an official and private meeting. From what Itachi could see from his position near the doors, the girl had launched the Kiri-nin through a nearby tree trunk and Kisame was picking himself up from the wreckage and grinning.
"Uhhh—" Naruto looked very concerned. "They gonna be all right?"
"They ought to be." Itachi paused for a moment to mull this over more thoroughly, but then nodded. "Kisame has simply been anxious for a good spar—we have worked together for so long that our matches are not enough to really amuse him. He will not risk permanently harming a prospective partner. Your teammate, if I recall correctly, did manage to match and defeat Sasori several years ago and I imagine she has grown stronger since. Besides, Kisame at present is unarmed. She will be fine, I think."
"Ha, yeah," the boy replied with a grin. "Sakura's not what you'd call delicate, that's for sure." He looked to Itachi and then something in his expression changed—saddened. "Um…"
Itachi briefly met his stare before looking to his lap as he folded the letter in his hands and ran his fingers along the seams of the folds to crease them. "I have not heard from my brother," he said softly. "We have followed through on a handful of potential leads in the last few years, but nothing has ever come of them. What of you?"
"The same," Naruto said and there was something painfully young about the way his shoulders curled in a little on himself.
Itachi let out a long, slow breath. "I think that it is very likely he will not be found until he wishes to be," he explained, wanting to offer consolation but not certain how to go about it in an effective manner. "I have known that for a long time and have yet to fully accept it. I do not expect it to be easy for you to do so either."
"He's been pardoned."
"He likely knows that."
"Why won't he come home, then?"
"To what?" Itachi wondered and Naruto looked at him sharply. "To a village and friends he betrayed? To you? His dearest friend he tried to kill for the sake of power? His pride led him astray and made him a fool for Orochimaru and then Madara. How could he bear it? Between that and the shame he must feel, to come home would be to face endless reminders of what he nearly became."
"You didn't really help. You might'a had good reason to do what you did, but you—"
"My plan was flawed and I had no way to ensure it would play out as I intended," Itachi cut in, without harshness or spite. "That is my fault and I accept the burden of it entirely. I will not forgive myself for the pain I caused him; for everything I did to him as I attempted to decide for him his destiny as mine had been decided for me. But that is between the gods and me when I finally find rest. Please, leave it there, Naruto."
The boy looked shocked by this and then his expression softened a little and he looked to his lap. "I'm sorry. I didn't it mean it like… well, not like that." He sighed as he raked a hand through his scruffy hair and then scratched his cheek. "Sasuke made his own choices and has always made his own choices and I can't stop that and it's not your fault. You didn't push him toward Orochimaru. He picked that path himself."
The brawl outside continued, if the noise was anything to go by, but it was easy enough to ignore.
"You wanted something better for him. That's what big brothers do," Naruto went on.
"I wanted it as much for myself," Itachi admitted.
"Doesn't matter. We all want something for the people we love."
Itachi allowed himself a small smile, even though he wasn't entirely sure why the boy's words meant as much to him as they did.
"Is all of what you said… is that why you won't come back?"
He froze at this and frowned at the boy, who was watching the flickers of blue and pink disappearing and reappearing in the yard beyond the doors. Kisame was still laughing, so apparently the girl was faring well enough to amuse him. "I…" Itachi paused to search for the correct words to explain what he thought should have been rather obvious.
"Everyone knows what happened," Naruto said. "Baa-chan promised you that they would. I guess the old men on the council thought she'd gone off her nut, but she made sure of it anyway. Everyone knows that you did what you did for Konoha. We know you saved the village and there's no way to…" He shifted a little, as if suddenly uncomfortable, but with something more than his cloak or the heavy weight of the pack he carried; with his own skin in some way or with a feeling inside of it. "How do you…?" He paused again and squinted into the middle distance and then lowered his head and his eyes to stare at the floor instead. "How do you thank someone for killing their own family?"
Itachi found a spot on the ceiling that fit his fancy and stared at it long and hard as he tried to quell the torrent of emotions suddenly roaring through him. "Have you ever noticed that the Hokage always thanks you specifically for your sacrifice after a mission?"
He smiled at that too because Uzumaki Naruto had saved the ninja world and still sounded so very, very young and naïve. "He does not just mean your time or the physical cost of your job," he went on. "Every kill you make is a sacrifice for the sake of the village and those who will inherit it. That kill is as much the Hokage's burden as it is your own because it was his order. The little pieces of your selves that you each give away when that happens is yet another sacrifice for the village and the people who rely on it. You do not thank someone for taking another's life, but for their willingness to do something awful while you are both only able to hope that it is for the best of something bigger than yourselves." He took a breath. "My family did not consider the fact that there was no victory to be had in a revolt. They gave no consideration to the power of the other clans, who would have not be easily subjugated, or the fact that a civil war would have torn the village to pieces and that other villages would have taken advantage of the chaos and attacked. They Uchiha were powerful, but they would have never had the strength to overcome those odds. A war of that magnitude would have destroyed everything and there would have been no throne for anyone to sit upon when it was finished. So, when I think on it I try to remember that I regret the necessity of my actions, but not that I followed through with them. I believed then that it was for the best and I still believe that."
"Then come home."
Itachi furrowed his brow a little. "I am not my brother," he said.
"Tch, no kiddin'?" Naruto grinned a little to show he meant no ill-will by his response and then he shook his head. "Sasuke has nothin' to do with this. You say you did everything for Konoha, so come back to the village and see for yourself what you saved. I think you deserve that much." He scratched at his cheek as he cast a weary look around the dilapidated walls of the monastery. "Plus, it's gotta be better than way out here in the middle of nowhere, right? And nothin' says you gotta stay any longer than you wanna."
Itachi mulled on that word when he looked back out the doors to watch Kisame and the girl, who were standing and talking now, clearly engrossed in a conversation he couldn't quite pick up on as they were both turned at a poor angle for reading lips. Then the girl asked something indistinct that caused Kisame to start laughing again and good-naturedly pound her on the shoulder.
Home. The idea had gotten no less strange since the first time Kisame had mentioned the possibility. It still made him weary, but he couldn't deny how enticing it was.
"This is the warmest it's gonna get all summer in River, ain't it?" Naruto wondered aloud, his face turned upward toward the ceiling. "It's not bad, I guess. I mean, the winter must've sucked but summer will be all right. Bet you miss Fire Country summers, though."
Itachi raised an eyebrow at the boy even as he couldn't quite resist the smile that pulled at his lips. Clever kid. Much more manipulative than he would have credited the loudmouthed blond he had first met all of those years ago with being. "I do," he admitted at length. It was the truth, too. Gods, did he ever miss Konoha summers, when everything was warm and welcoming and smelled like flowers and spices.
Naruto grinned at him and just like that, somehow, it was decided. Uchiha Itachi was going back to Konoha.
1. Yeah, yeah, yeah I know. The last thing I need to do is start yet another story, but this kind of came out of no where and blindsided me and I had to write it so whatever.
2. Blame SunMoonNeko for this because I certainly do. We were discussing ita/saku rather non-seriously and then suddenly it got very serious and then it turned into this so whatever.
3. I happily admit that I have basically told canon to go fuck itself in this story, because seriously fuck canon. Itachi isn't sick either in this because that was a cheap as hell way for him to die that came out of nowhere and I love Kisame so he here's too.
4. Spoiler: Yes, I'm calling Madara Madara rather than Obito because that little "twist" annoys me so much that I can't speak but in angry gargling noises when I talk about it. So, yes, I'd rather think he's some ancient as hell psycho from the way, way back when.
5. This story is not going to be heavy on the dramaz or the adventure or the angst and don't bitch to me about wanting more of any of those things if that bothers you. The manga gets so weighed down in quasi-philosophical bullshit and angst that it seems to forget it's trying to tell a fuckin' story and not give us some moral lesson on why war's bad (no shit, Kishi). This is a story of redemption and renewal and it's going to focus on what comes next when we've dusted ourselves off.