For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not—and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul…
This is a story about truth, and lies, and everything that happens in between.
Where does the story begin?
I hardly know myself. "Start at the beginning", it is oft said. But then, what constitutes a beginning? A point at which something starts, yes, but that could mean so many things. The start of a day, the start of a journey, the start of a life—really, the start of anything and everything under the sun. A beginning is a nebulous thing.
Where does the story begin?
In this case, one way the story could begin is with an ending. More specifically, a death. No, the death. You should know this beginning well by now: the death of a girl.
(Oddly enough, she did not die of starvation or dehydration or drowning or anything like that, even though she was lost at sea. No, her death was due to her only companion in that great expanse of water: a boy. For the ocean got cold at night, so very cold, it seeped through the boy's skin and chilled the very core of his being, and the warmth of another body next to his could no longer pacify him. He needed more. He had nothing against her, and she had nothing against him. But the knife was sharp, and he felt so very cold, and her blood would keep him warm.)
She was a normal girl, a girl like any other girl. She had just enough normalness and just enough strangeness to balance things out and put her at the dubious place of "average". At the time of her death, her thoughts began to veer sharply towards the strange end of the spectrum, but this could be chalked up to the fact that dying makes people think strange things.
(The way he wielded the knife was incredibly alluring to her. When he stabbed her it was purely impersonal in intention, but the feel of the knife piercing through her skin and into the innermost parts of her felt remarkably intimate all the same, reminding her of the rhythmic thrusts of a lover. And indeed, like a lover, he passed out on top of her when he was done, his energy spent.)
It was messy, and painful, and generally traumatizing, as deaths are wont to be.
(There was an incomparably bittersweet sense of fear after that, and as she lay there dying, shaking and trembling, she wept. Her tears weren't from the pain, though, or from the fear of the encounter. They were for the brush of death that she had never before experienced, but had now fallen in love with. For only as she was dying did she truly feel alive.)
The point is, you know the beginning of this story: a normal girl dies. Then, through some cosmic filing error, she gets reborn.
My name is Uchiha Chiyome, and this is the story of how I ruined everything.
"This is the mystery of the quotient, quotient—"
Led Zeppelin doesn't exist here. It's a damn shame. So the best I can do is try and sing what I remember.
People say I'm mad. This, admittedly, is not an entirely baseless assumption. But sanity is a matter of perspective, and despite what people say about me, I'm not crazy. I'm not. It was only understandable for me to get stressed when I found out that I was in an anime nerd's wet dream.
But in the same way people try not to think about the fact that they will all be dead one day and all of their achievements will be naught but dust, well… I try not to think about the implications of my name and the names of the people who call themselves my family. There is only the night, and the stars, and the long cries of the cicadas.
And so I sing about rain even though there is none.
"Upon us all, upon us all, a little rain must fall…"
"Chiyome? What are you singing?"
There is a woman speaking to me. To most, she goes by the name Uchiha Mikoto, but to me she is only known as Mother. I call her this not out of choice, but because she practically threw a fit when I tried to call her by her name. She is a creature of sparrow bones and wide dark eyes, her pale face luminous and spotless like a pearl, and her hair like black silk. She manages to loom over my small form, and yet is positively dainty compared to most of the giants in this house.
I roll my eyes and do not answer, continuing to sing. "It's just a little rain, oh yeah…"
That face turns to pure white marble, still beautiful but now with a stony hardness to it. "Chiyome."
Her tone is disapproving, scolding, and I huff. Every day, these people pester me. It is incredibly tiring. You must sleep at this time, this is when you eat, this is what you will do today… How terrible it is, to have the life of a child with all of the disadvantages and none of the benefits.
"I want you to go to bed." Her lips are pursed, a slight frown marring those beautiful features. She tries her best, she really does, and it would be admirable if it weren't so annoying.
I snort, and turn to her with a sneer. I am scared, defensive, and overall not in the mood to deal with her mothering. So I say, "And I want a rice ball. We don't all get what we want. Fuck you."
She slaps me, hard, and something in her face looks vulnerable and raw. Not like she is about to cry, because quite frankly no one in this bizarre family seems like they know how to express any emotion whatsoever, but if she were a crying person, perhaps there would have been tears in her eyes about to spill over. It's almost funny, that I've shaken her this much, but not entirely surprising. I am usually somewhat agreeable, but time ticks on, and I know it will happen tonight.
(I'm scared. I'm so, so scared.)
"What on earth has gotten into you today, Chiyome?" she hisses furiously, her hands balled up into fists, the corners of her mouth pulled in tight. "No. Don't answer that. I don't want to hear anything more from you. Go to bed, now."
I bare my teeth at her, rubbing my stinging cheek. "No. I'm waiting," I say, stubbornly sticking myself to the ground with chakra as she tries to manhandle me into going to my room.
(Please stay with me.)
She scoffs derisively, stopping in her movements for a moment. "For what?"
The unmistakeable sound of the door sliding open acts as an answer to her question.
It is time.
"Big brother," I say, as is expected for my role in the play. But the reverence in my voice is all real. From the way his silhouette is illuminated by the light, he looks like a god of death, a shinigami. Perhaps he is one.
"Little sister," he replies tonelessly, yet the tears that trail down his cheeks glitter. "Mother." His katana clatters to the ground from boneless fingers.
"Oh, Itachi," Mother says, immediately coming forward to embrace him. "My boy. My sweet, sweet boy." Her arms envelop him, bringing him close, and his hands come up to clutch at her shoulders, and he weeps. Itachi—beautiful, strong, graceful Itachi—weeps into Mother's shirt like a crying child. She makes a series of meaningless noises meant to comfort, carding her fingers through his hair, but his back still heaves with shuddering sobs. After a little while, though, his sobs quiet as he seems to finally get himself under control.
A kunai seems to materialize in his hand, and slowly, ever so slowly, he moves it to the back of her neck, poised to stab up through the base of her skull and through her brain stem.
Mother merely continues to hold him close, still stroking his head. "Make it quick for your mother, okay?" she murmurs, her eyes falling closed for the last time.
There is a sound, a wet, raw sound. The kind of sound that I have only ever heard once before. I realize, then, that I am trembling, and I have never been more aware that I am not Uchiha Sasuke.
Gently, he lowers her to the ground. I stare at the body. Those pale limbs, slender and graceful in life, merely look frail now. That long, black hair retains none of the beauty it had in life. And the expression on her dead face... An image strikes my mind: a flower, pressed in the pages of a dusty old book.
She looks like a broken lily, I think. The thought echoes in my head like some high and distant sound.
He turns to me. "You are not surprised," he says quietly. It is not a question.
"I am," I reply immediately, because that is what my role is supposed to be. Surprised, shocked, horrified, betrayed, agonized…
There is no dress rehearsal for life. You only get one shot at it. Except I got two.
(I never even wanted to be in the play at all.)
He takes a step forward, and I scramble backwards out of some deeply ingrained animal instinct. "You lie," he accuses me, face stony. "For a while, I've suspected… but this confirms it. You knew. You always knew what would happen, in the end."
I feel like simultaneously laughing and crying. This moment, this very moment, is when someone finally figures it out. "Yes," I admit, because I cannot lie to those red eyes. Then, I ask the question that has been running through my mind for the whole night.
"Are… are you going to kill me now?"
He walks forward, and I distantly note that the kunai is still in his hand. The blood dripping off of it looks black in the moonlight. He stops right in front of me, and all of a sudden, I find myself facing the cold chestplate of his ANBU armor. One of his hands lifts my hair away from my neck, and an involuntary shiver runs down my spine at the feeling of the cold night air on my skin. I can feel the other hand bringing the kunai up to hover at the base of my skull, poised to do what he did to Mother.
He presses the tip of the kunai down, and I can feel blood well up from the wound. And oddly enough, I feel a wave of terrible rage wash through me.
"Just do it," I say harshly. "Do it. Do it! Why aren't you making it quick? Please just do it quickly… For me?"
Before I can even think, I feel my hair swish back into place, and realize that he is putting the kunai back into its pouch.
I look up at him, shocked. "What… Why aren't you doing it?" My voice sounds lost and young.
He cups my cheek gently, and somehow it is worse than the kunai to my neck.
"I could never kill you," he whispers, like a secret. "I love you."
Then the last thing I see before I fall unconscious are those eyes. Such a lovely shade of red. I remember something from a story I saw in another life, and I think of it as the world goes dark.
And you shall shed tears of scarlet…
There was once a god with two faces. Janus. One looked at the past; the other looked at the future. He was the god of beginnings and endings, of gates and doorways and passages. The god of the edges, those in-between places where you're not quite one thing but you're not quite the other, the god of the journey, the passage of time, of what happens between start to finish. It is the journey that I linger on, here. Because I knew the beginning of this story, and the ending.
There is only ever one ending, after all.
No, what matters the most, I think, is the journey. It's like… a love story, or a cliché. We all know how it will end, but we want to see what happens on the way there. It is the not the beginning or the ending, it is the story. And I know the script for this one. Or at least, I thought I did. I sometimes wonder, though… was there ever a script in the first place? The question haunts me.
Here's a story: a girl walks quietly through a wood. She sees a cat in this wood, perched on the bough of a tree.
"I don't want to go among mad people," says the girl.
"Oh, you can't help that," says the cat. "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" says the girl.
"You must be," says the cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
I heard a joke once.
Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain.
Doctor says, "Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up."
Man bursts into tears. Says, "But Doctor… I am Pagliacci."
Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.
I might have been that girl; I might have been that man—I can't quite remember. Those memories are lost in time, like tears in rain.
But I do remember that I was born in water.
Ejected from a paradise of emptiness, I felt myself sink to the bottom of the pool, a flower floating into the depths of the ocean. I opened my eyes, and my veiled gaze saw a world of light. In this water, two massive hands reached for me, and thrust me into a dizzying place of jagged edges and burning ice, the smells like a slap and the noise—I screamed.
They took this as a sign of good fortune, despite the inauspicious year of my birth. I was born in the year of the Fire Horse, you see. It might not have been as bad if I were a boy, but females born in the year of the Fire Horse were said to be notoriously unlucky, and bad news all around. And because I was born on July 23rd, in the middle of the hottest summer ever recorded in Konoha, people thought I would be an especially fiery Fire Horse.
But no, I was not particularly hot-blooded. Oh, I had my moments of temper, and they could be truly terrible. I was implacable, in anger.
For the most part, though, I was a melancholy little girl.
Psalms 23:4. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Only, there was no rod and staff. There was only the fear, and no comfort. And stuck in a useless, frail body with doughy limbs, I festered. It only made sense that I wanted to gain as much autonomy as possible. So first I crawled, and then I walked, and then I ran, and then I played just like any other child, yet also a spirit in a stolen body, and everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. For a little while.
No—I first knew that something truly impossible had happened when I went to school, and saw what could only be a young Uzumaki Naruto. It was then that I realized three things.
One, I was crazy.
Two, I was a female version of Uchiha Sasuke.
And three, the world was screwed.
A/N: The first paragraph is a quote by Edgar Allan Poe. The whole Pagliacci part is directly quoted from Watchmen, and the part before that is paraphrasing Alice in Wonderland. Then the whole memory monologue is from the Joker in The Killing Joke. "And you shall shed tears of scarlet" is kind of a mix between the dubbed and the subbed version of a line from Cowboy Bebop. "Ejected from a paradise of emptiness" is a phrase similar to something I read in Anaïs Nin's House of Incest. The phrase "like tears in rain" I got from the movie Blade Runner. She's singing "The Rain Song" by Led Zeppelin. I think that's all Chiyome quoted this chapter? Be prepared for her to quote a lot more though. Let me know if you find anything else that I missed and need to acknowledge.
Ernest Hemingway once said, Write the truest sentence you know. Mine is this:
(Oh, does it go on.)
When I look back on my life, it's not that I don't want to see things exactly as they happened: it's just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way. And truthfully, the lie of it all is much more honest, because… I invented it.
Clinical psychology tells us arguably that trauma is the ultimate killer. Memories are not recycled like atoms and particles in quantum physics—they can be lost forever. It's sort of like my past is an unfinished painting. And as the artist of that painting, I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again.
It's not that I've been dishonest. It's just that I loathe reality.
April is the cruellest month.
April was the month school started in Konoha.
I had been living in this world for six years, and quite frankly I was damn tired of staying in the house all day for almost the entirety of that time. Mother and Father were actually reluctant to let me to school, stating that they were worried for my "delicate" health. I think that they just weren't quite sure what to do with me. Oh, they loved me like parents were supposed to love their child, And as I grew the doctors they called in couldn't find anything wrong with me, but those first few precarious years stayed with them, and they felt safer knowing that I was under their direct watch, because something in them recognized still that not everything was right with me.
When I said I ran and laughed and played like any other child, I was totally lying. Because I made one very strange little girl. Developmentally, I was very… off. I hit all the milestones physically—in fact, I was way ahead of the game in that aspect, mostly because I would go insane if I didn't regain some freedom. Prodigy, they whispered at first, seeing my lightning-fast progress. But I didn't babble or coo like babies normally did, and I didn't laugh, and I barely cried. I didn't turn my head to acknowledge loud sounds, and I didn't respond to my name all of the time, staying sullen and silent. Mother and Father called many doctors over to the house in those early years, because it was then that they began to think something was seriously wrong.
They weren't incorrect.
On the rare occasion that people other than doctors came over, relatives brought the kids they had who were around my age, probably because Mother and Father wanted me to socialize. But I refused to do so with children. So I would sit in the corner with a book, or busy myself with stretches and exercises to get a workable range of movement back, and I growled and glared at the kids who tried to come close in order to get them to leave. After a while, Mother and Father stopped trying to get me to play with them, and I was left alone… well. Alone, except for Itachi.
Itachi was a weird kid. He was too old, too tired, and it was almost as if he was like me, a spirit stuck in a child's body. He was… intelligent. Startlingly so. His eyes saw everything, even with no Sharingan. I wouldn't blame him if it all became too much for him, because being smart like him was like standing at the top of a skyscraper, looking down at tiny people with tiny lives, like ants, and wondering what would happen if you jumped, if you would fall or if you would fly…
And yet, for all that I'd known him—really known him, not as a character from a story in another life, but a person—he never faltered. But I think that was just his way: he was the kind of person that had the fire of death within him, that relentless flame that forged the soul anew. Mother and Father thought of him as gentle, and I suppose that he was, but it was a gentleness akin to a fire at the hearth. Contained, distant, warm, but still burning. Always, always burning. He tried to hide it, but I saw through him. I knew it was there. I thought of a movie I once saw: Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled around their shores; burning with the fires of Orc. Itachi reminded me of an angel, the beauty and symmetry of him, and oh, how fiery he would fall… Like a supernova, he would shine bright, brighter than the sun, and then collapse in on himself.
But I'm getting off track.
In April, I met Naruto, on the first and only day I went to school.
"How much do you know?" he asks me.
"I know enough."
I'll say it now—I couldn't prevent the death of the Uchiha Clan. Oh, there was chaos theory and the butterfly and the typhoon all the way across the world, and that was all well and good, but history (or any story, really) was like a river. You could throw a pebble in and create a ripple, but the current always corrected itself. No matter what you did, the river would just flow in the same direction. Shoot the dictator and prevent the war? But the dictator was merely the tip of the whole festering boil of social pus from which dictators emerged; shoot one, and there would be another one along in a minute. Shoot him too? Why not shoot everyone and invade Poland? In fifty years', thirty years', ten years' time the world would be very nearly back on its old course.
The story had a great weight of inertia. Even though I was there and Sasuke didn't exist and a whole myriad of changes might arise from that, Itachi was still sick, the Kyuubi attack still happened, and the Uchiha clan was still filled with unrest. Those things I could not change.
I used to wonder what was the point of it all, me getting reborn into a family I was unable to save. Did it just happen randomly? Was it some cosmic filing error? I hoped so, because I didn't like to think about the other, more dangerous questions: was this really what happened after you died? Was there actually some greater entity that I was supposed to serve a purpose for? And perhaps most daunting of all: was this a one-time thing? Or was I doomed to be born and to die over and over again, to live all lives and to experience all things? Such thoughts terrified me.
In the end, though, they got me nowhere. In order to keep my sanity (or at least, what remained of it) I decided then to think of it as a mistake, rather than dwell on the chance there was some grander purpose preordained for me and the possibility of a higher being existing. And I would just live out my own life as best as I could, because who was I to decide the fate of the world?
"Then you know what I want you to do."
A pause. Then: "Yes. You want me to kill you."
(It's always the quiet ones, they say. But Naruto was loud. Even in the beginning, he was loud.)
I sighed, giving the schoolyard the dead eye. A couple of brave souls tried to approach me, but I glared and hissed at them like I did when Mother and Father first tried to get me to socialize. After checking to see that all the disgusting slimy beasts known as "children" were properly scared away, I dug into my lunch, eating the rice balls with relish.
I felt a presence in front of me, so warm, so incredibly bright, that I instinctively looked up, and I saw blue skies and yellow suns.
"Hey! You think you're better than everyone, do ya?"
I smirked up at him. "I don't think that. I know that. Idiot."
The boy turned red. "You… you bitch!"
I barked out a laugh. An astute observation. How interesting… "What's your name, kid?"
He seemed to brighten at the chance to introduce himself, and he jabbed a thumb into his chest, saying proudly, "Me? I'm Uzumaki Naruto, and you better not forget it, dattebayo!" He grinned, and it was all teeth. He was bright, so very bright and the light seemed to sear my eyes.
Those words struck me with the force and care of a speeding bus, and I froze. I'd been content to live in my little bubble, never leaving the house and never talking to anyone except for Mother, Father, and Itachi. But confronted with the main man himself, it became all too real for me. Suddenly the significance of my role seemed to come onto my shoulders all at once, and I felt like I couldn't breathe from the weight of it crushing me. Is it real? Oh god, please no.
Monet did a whole series of paintings on the Rouen Cathedral, all of them stunning. Yet at the same time, none of them conveyed the atmospheric reality of the cathedral. They were more like a dream of a cathedral. A painted dream… If you stand too close to a painting, all you see are patches of color. If you stand too far away, you can't see the details. The Sharingan allowed you to stand at the perfect distance from the painting of reality itself and observe the truth of it.
Mine activated then, because in that moment I needed to see. I needed to—
I laughed. It was not a happy laugh, or a sad laugh, or a sly laugh, or a bitter laugh. This laugh was all jagged edges, a laugh in the face of the world ending. I laughed, and I laughed, and I laughed and laughed and laughed.
I kept on laughing, laughing, laughing, and I couldn't stop. I was shaking, my muscles were spasming, I was choking and gasping for breath, but still, I laughed.
Eventually, they sedated me and brought me home. "For your own safety," they said.
Mother and Father didn't bring me to school again.
People say that Henry Ward Beecher's last words were, "Now comes the mystery." That sounds beautiful, but it just doesn't make sense to me. He was known as a devout believer in God, so he should have been sure of where he was going. Why would he call it a mystery? I don't know. And even if I believed that he said those words, they would still have lost their luster for me. Because what happens after death is no longer a mystery to me: you lose your fucking mind.
"Will you do it? Will you kill me?"
There is a cat in a box.
No one knows about the state of this cat, because it could be dead or it could be alive and they just haven't opened the box to see. In this unknown state, it is called both dead and alive, and smart people call it Shrödinger's Cat and liken it to the nature of reality. And this isn't wrong, just short-sighted. Because things aren't just two things, they're tons of things. The cat was dead, it was alive, but it was also furry, and soft, and feline, seeing in the dark but not seeing at all.
Reality is fucked up. But I mention the cat for a reason.
I used to play this old game, a clunky handheld thing, called Firestarter. It was set in the city of devils, Endsville. The city's origins were a mystery, but I like to think that it was like Shrödinger's Cat, both real and not real, before the metaphorical Pandora opened the box and let the cat out.
Regardless: as soon as the city formed, it prospered, and then it slowly ate up the world. In the game, you served Cantido, god of the black flame, and you had to hinder the city's growth by setting it afire. Trick the firefighters, hide from the police, and torch the city to purge it of its devils. But you couldn't burn everything. If the entire city burned down, you had no place to stay.
There was no final victory. The only thing you could do was burn the city.
It was a pretty dumb game. And yet I find my thoughts straying to it, to Endsville burning, burning, burning… It reminds me of death, I think. Death which was not oblivion or cold emptiness, no, death was beautiful, the most heartbreakingly beautiful thing I ever experienced, and yet it was also an unforgiving flame, like the black flame of Cantido himself. There was always something wrong within me, something hard and icy and cruel and sharp. And when I died, that unquenchable fire burned away the impurities from my soul, purging the devils in me, and when I cooled there was nothing but shining blade and razor edge and diamond hardness.
"Yes, I will kill you. Anything for my big brother."
One day, before I died, I was driving to work, and I saw a glimmer of orange fur, sort of burnt in color, and when I got closer I saw a dead fox. Something indescribable pulled at my chest then, a strange tugging sensation that compelled me to pull my car over to the side of the road.
After I opened the car door and got out, my nose was assaulted by the acrid scent of necrotic flesh and putrefaction. It stung my nostrils, my eyes watering and bile rising up in the back of my throat. For a moment, I lost my bravado, but some unknown impulse made me forge on. I went closer to the source of the smell and sank down in a squat by the creature's still form. For a moment I watched, the fat, glistening bodies of maggots writhing around blindly as they feasted.
That memory of the dead fox makes me think back onto my own death, and I wonder how my rotting body looked. The sun must have dessicated most of my skin, salt and blood drying on it in a flaky crust, while other parts were probably pickled by the murky ocean water sloshing around the bottom of the liferaft.
Or maybe the boy that killed me didn't let it rot at all. Perhaps he, like those maggots, feasted on my flesh.
A/N: THIS CHAPTER WOULD NOT BE CREATED WITHOUT THE HELP OF nora9gina, WHO IS AMAZING AND LOVELY AND PUTS UP WITH MY SHIT. WHAT A BEAUTIFUL SOUL. The first little monologue comes from a Lady Gaga music video, called "Marry the Night". The quote about Shrödinger's Cat actually comes from something the lovely Aleycat4eva said to me once in conversation. The quote about the dictator comes from Terry Pratchett. "Fiery the angels fell" comes from the movie Blade Runner. "April is the cruellest month" comes from The Waste Land by Eliot. Firestarter is actually a fictional game from the anime FLCL.
If anyone tells me where the "Excerpt" is from without looking it up, I will message them and maybe write something for them.
What did you think? Do you like my new formatting style? I'm experimenting with it. Is the setup too confusing? Let me know if you don't like it, so I can redo it if enough people say they don't like the chapter.
Last thing, I have a rec for you guys: Living Dead Girl, by sonyat. Sonya is a fabulous writer, person, and I truly love the way she characterizes Hidan in this story.
There's a story called The Yellow Wallpaper about a woman who is confined to a room for an entire summer and slowly goes mad, and by the end she doesn't want to leave the room, believing that it is the only safe place for her.
After the incident at school, I was confined to the Uchiha head family's house.
Mother and Father decided to homeschool me. They didn't think I could handle going to regular school yet, but at the same time they didn't want to 'waste my potential'. So I continued what I had been doing since I was four, getting all my schooling from Mother, as well as some private tutors—all from the clan, of course. It was all very boring, because for a while I was never allowed out of the compound, and even when I eventually was, I had to act like I was sneaking out as part of an exercise in stealth. (I say 'act' because I am 100% sure that they knew what I was doing.) It was all training, training, training, because what else could I do?
That time in my life makes me think of one of my favorite books—The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Specifically of the part where the fox is talking to the little prince about connections with people, about how they make even the mundanities of life seem special.
"My life is very monotonous," the fox said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…"
I was the fox, for the one who broke up the monotony of that part of my life was my very own golden-haired little prince. Blue skies and yellow suns, foxy grins and the smell of ramen broth. And the answer is: Who is Uzumaki Naruto? When I snuck out, it was him who I went to see. How could I not? He was the lynchpin, the keystone, the axis on which this world turned. It was so strange, though. Talking to him, listening to him, breathing the same air as him—I could never quite get used to it. And that smile, eyes scrunched shut and a flash of teeth…
But I'm getting off track.
I remember when I woke up the very next day after that disastrous first day of school, and was met with the sight of Itachi at my bedside. All of my most significant memories of Itachi are of him bathed in light, and I think it makes me subconsciously consider him to be a mythic sort of figure, not quite larger than life but still otherworldly, like those statues of the angels they put in mausoleums. For a moment I simply gazed at him, and he was so still, so silent, that he seemed to have been cast from marble and was only then learning how to breathe.
"What if this all isn't real? What if this life is a dream?" The Sharingan didn't lie, I knew this intrinsically and inherently, a fact backed up by the truth in my blood, but I still had to ask.
At first he took my questions as the juvenile musings of a young child. "It's not a dream, Chiyome," he told me with a touch of indulgent exasperation that he would not show any other. He quirked his lips to the side, fond and amused. "Why would you think that?"
"What if it isn't?" I insisted. "We live in a world where people can breathe fire and walk on water. Doesn't that strike you as strange?" I smirked and tapped my temple, motioning towards my Sharingan, which I had activated for emphasis. "Come to think of it, everything looks strange if you stare at it with these eyes for too long. Tea is just leaf water, coffee is just bean water, words are all just made up, and stars are just dead light. Oh, I suppose that is a conclusion that most people come to at some point in their lives, but these eyes make you face it… I wonder if that's why our clan has a history of mental instability."
It was then that he first looked at me, really looked at me. Before he had only seen me as Little Sister, Child, Must-Be-Protected. Now he was getting an inkling of just what I was in a way that most were too blind or too afraid to see. That was Itachi's special sort of poison though. Some things are too terrible to grasp at once, and other things—naked, sputtering, indelible in their horror—are too terrible to ever really grasp at all. But Itachi was one who could fathom the unfathomable.
The weight of his regard was stifling.
"When did you activate your Sharingan?" he countered in lieu of a response.
I gave a small shrug. "Today at school. Or would it technically be yesterday…?"
"That was yesterday," Itachi confirmed.
I hummed in acknowledgement, but was not deterred. "You didn't answer my question," I pointed out in a casual way, almost like when a little kid asks someone why the sky is blue, only older, because I was older than that. More like a girl bumping her hip against that of a friend and casually discussing the answers to the math test they just took… Oh, I remember those days, back when my name wasn't Chiyome and I was happy and alive and—no.
"I didn't," he admitted, and though he was usually never one for admissions of any kind, I think that I've always been kind of special for him. "But it's a hard one, don't you agree? Especially because you're not looking for confirmation on whether reality is real or not, you're looking for advice on what to do in the face of an uncertain world, which is something that some people never figure out in the end."
"But the end is relative depending on the person," I argued. "Someone not figuring out the meaning of life before they die isn't a detriment towards them, it's a statement on mortality."
He smirked, a barely-there crease in the straight line of his upper lip. If I didn't know his face so well, if I didn't have it burned into my memory with the Sharingan and mapped out with my fingertips, his expression would have gone over my head as apathy.
"I never said it was a detriment towards the people that never figure it out," he said. "That was merely you projecting your own desire to figure out the meaning of life onto them as a failure when I never said it was a bad thing."
"Good and bad is so very subjective, though," I mused. "The only constants we have in this world is what is fact and what is fiction. Everything else is influenced by emotion, and looking beneath even that those emotions can be rationalized down to mere instinct, products of centuries of conditioning." I glared at him. "Hey… you're getting me off track."
"So I am," he said good-naturedly, eyes dancing with humor. "But you make it so easy."
I pouted cutely, but then grew serious. "I need to know, Itachi," I said. "What do you do if you're not sure of what's real and what's not real?"
"You pulse your chakra in case there's a genjutsu," he said wryly, and I reached forward and pinched him.
The good humor faded from his eyes and voice and I saw an ember within him, the stolen flame that Prometheus used to give light to mankind.
"You keep going," he told me, and though it was said quietly, it was in no way defeated. "You keep going."
There was a movie, called Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It starred Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie "the Cat" Pollitt, and Paul Newman as Maggie's husband Brick Pollitt. The movie depicted the troubled relationship between the wife and the husband, a tempestuous marriage wrought with strife and struggle, Brick rejecting Maggie's advances because of something that she did (which I will not spoil). But one scene will always stick out to me. I remember it clear as day.
An expression of exquisite torment on her beautiful face, Maggie said, "Oh, Brick, how long does this have to go on? This punishment? Haven't I served my term? Can't I apply for a pardon?"
"Lately, that finishin' school voice of yours sounds like you was runnin' upstairs to tell somebody the house is on fire," he said sardonically in that cool, smooth drawl of his, not even deigning to look at her. Brick had the stereotypical characteristic of aloof masculinity, but he played it off very well. His was the voice of rich plantation owners, of the wind in the trees on warm Tennessee nights.
She leaned forward, yearning for any sort of closeness with him. "Is it any wonder? You know what I feel like? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof!"
"Then jump off the roof, Maggie, jump off it," he bit out, and his stonelike facade fractured even the slightest bit with visible aggravation. It wasn't a lot, but it was there, in the way his pale eyes met her own gaze. "Cats jump off roofs and they land uninjured. Do it. Jump."
"Jump where? Into what?" she cried out, her despair in every line of her body, the doleful arch of her eyebrows and the beseeching angle of her shoulders.
But Brick was unmoved. "Take a lover." This part never failed to shock me, the cold brutality with which it was delivered, the cold detachment of it making it all the worse.
"I don't deserve that!" she declared, something broken in her posture. Then quieter, "I can't see any man but you. With my eyes closed, I just see you. Why can't you get ugly, Brick? Why can't you please get fat or ugly or somethin' so I can stand it?"
Brick scoffed. "You'll make out fine. Your kind always does," he said, and he said 'your kind' in the way of all misogynistic men, as if women were some strange thing that he didn't quite care for. That line always pissed me off.
"Oh, I'm more determined than you think. I'll win all right," she told him, and in her voice was the surety of the unmistakeable inevitability of the heat of a summer sun, heady and warm as such that it reached down to the bones.
"Win what?" Brick wondered, and he looked curious despite himself. "What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?"
She looked at him, a strange sort of luminosity in her blue, blue eyes, her face like the open flame of a candle, gentle but still burning. "Just stayin' on it, I guess," she said, her Southern accent adding a touch of sweetness to the words. "For as long as she can." Then she blew a kiss at him and walked away.
Context, I feel, matters most of the time, but in this case only somewhat. Because the truth of this scene is in in those last of lines. That image of Elizabeth Taylor, her blue eyes as fathomless as the depths of the ocean, will always stay with me, and it comes to mind whenever I think of that conversation with Itachi. So often I feel like the cat on the hot tin roof, struggling to stay on. And as I think of cats on hot tin roofs holding on, and cats in boxes both dead and alive, I realize now that I know what makes those cats scream at night.
I come to, and am distantly aware of both coldness and warmth.
"Where are we?" I idly ask Itachi once I become cognizant of what, exactly, is going on. He is bounding through the trees at a breakneck speed, and I am loosely draped over his back. Using the Sharingan to scan the foliage, I am able to tell from the surrounding flora that we are in the eastern part of Fire Country, on the peninsula that is shared with Water Country.
I can practically feel him radiate disapproval. "You already know the answer to that," he bites out, sweat beading up on his brow. He is only fourteen, and while I'm not heavy, I'm not exactly light either, and he's probably been keeping up this pace for hours.
I roll my eyes and deactivate my Sharingan. "Fine. Why are we in the Oshima Peninsula?"
"Because we need to get to Water Country, so that I can seek asylum for you there," he explains. "Since you know the truth, Danzō-sama will see you as a threat to Konoha's security, and try to get rid of you." I feel his shoulders tense. "And I will not let that happen." It is a threat, a warning, and a promise, all in one, and it is delivered with such veracity that it strikes me silent.
When he stops, it is dark. My body is achy and stiff, even though I didn't even run, and I curl up into a ball, trying to keep the cold from leaching the warmth from my bones. I feign sleep.
"Chiyome. I know you're awake."
I groan, vehemently shaking my head, the pit of my stomach filled with dread at the confrontation that I know is about to happen, because the state of moratorium doesn't last forever and it's time to face the real world.
"Chiyome," Itachi says sharply, his tone unyielding and brooking no argument. It is the kind of tone an older brother would take, with none of a mother's closeness and none of a father's aloof disappointment. For a moment I pretend that we are a pair of normal siblings. But the illusion shatters when my eyes flutter open and all I see is the Sharingan, though distantly I am aware that he cocks his head to the side like a curious bird.
"How much do you know?" he asks me, looking serious and grave, but what would otherwise be an impassive countenance is betrayed by the red rims of his eyes and the tear tracks on his face. It makes him look broken, and combined with the fierceness of the Sharingan's bloody pinwheels the overall effect created is strange.
I look at him with no fear, because he would not hurt me. He loves me.
"I know enough," I reply. I look away then, unable to face my truth, and I feel a hundred years older. He doesn't speak for a while after that, and I don't blame him. Something like that needs time to sink in. In a way, I almost expected this, though. Itachi is so incredibly sharp, that natural edge of his honed to a keen blade by training, and I don't think I could hide anything from him.
"Then you know what I want you to do," he says, those eyes of his still boring into me. His grief is a palpable thing, a raw wound, and I can practically taste it on my tongue. It tastes bitter.
I close my eyes. "Yes," I say. "You want me to kill you." The words are heavy.
"Will you do it? Will you kill me?"
My eyes open again with shock, and I am faced with an uncommonly honest look on Itachi's face. There is a strange, feverish glaze on his Sharingan, which spins and spins and spins, and he looks for all the world like a man in the fires of hell seeing the hope of rain.
I sit up and reach out to cup his cheek, mirroring what he did right after he killed Mother. He leans into the touch, but he stays focused on me, gaze imploring.
"Yes, I will kill you," I say, and it is with the cosmic assurance of the motion of planets around the sun. I smile, the expression out of place for its brightness, but it feels… natural, somehow, which is strange because I've never really been one for smiling. "Anything for my big brother." I try to say it in a joking way, and it comes out more as a promise, but it still looks to calm him.
Itachi smiles back, and it is so heartbreakingly sweet and sad that it makes me want to cry.
"Thank you," he says, and he comes forward to embrace me, clutching me like a lifeline. "Thank you." I feel him let out a deep, shuddering sob.
I remember a half-forgotten story from another lifetime about an instrument called the quena, said to have a more penetrating, more haunting sound than any normal flute. It owes its origins to a man who made a flute out of the bones of his mistress. The wind blowing through the leaves of the forest surrounding us makes me think of that sound. I feel it on my face. It does and does not feel like his breath.
I close my eyes and pretend that my cheek and his breath are the only things in the world that are real.
A/N 2: PRAISE BE TO nora9gina, MY PARTNER IN CRIME. Seriously, this girl is amazing. She puts up with me nagging at her about so much stuff and is endlessly patient. What a queen.
The "some things are too terrible to grasp at once" bit is from Donna Tartt's book The Secret History. The "story from another life" that talks about the quena is actually Anaïs Nin's House of Incest. Hm, since Chiyome didn't quote as much stuff this chapter, I guess I can explain some things. Chiyome's name actually comes from the famous irl kunoichi, Chiyome Mochizuki, since Sasuke himself was named after the famous irl shinobi Sasuke Sarutobi. The kanji I use for page breaks (金剛) makes up the word kongōshō, which is the Japanese word for vajra, which is an item used in Buddhist ritual practices. The word vajra itself is a sanskrit term which means both "diamond" and "thunderbolt", representing indestructible truth and unstoppable force. In Hinduism it's the weapon of Indra ;)
If you want more SI!Sasuke shenanigans, my friend nora9gina's fic "mirror, mirror (further, nearer)" is a great place to find it. It's great, and funny, and I truly enjoyed it. I'm excited too because it has some fun stuff planned in the future.
If Naruto gave me a reprieve from the monotony, then when Shisui was there, what I did have to endure was made bearable.
The first anime I ever truly watched from start to finish was called Fooly Cooly, stylized as FLCL, and it was the beginning of a long love affair with the medium. My favorite episode out of the bunch was the second one, because it focused on the character of Samejima Mamimi, a high school delinquent who was an arsonist, and I always thought she was interesting.
She liked to take pictures, and sometimes forgot to wear shoes. She smoked cigarettes with the words "NEVER KNOWS BEST" scrawled on the sides, and performed strange rituals involving those cigarettes and stolen lighters that she taped to her head… She was strange, offbeat in the way of all my favorite characters—I always felt connected to the stranger ones.
But I'm getting off track.
The second episode of FLCL starts out showing flickering flames with Mamimi narrating, suiting the theme of her character, which was fire. I saw a god the other day, by a river on a rainy afternoon… He rescued an abandoned kitten, she said, and I can't help but draw parallels with the first time I met Shisui.
I first met Shisui by a river on a sunny afternoon, about a week after my first and last day of public school. He did rescue a kitten that had fallen in the river—the Uchiha district was filled with a ridiculous amount of strays, so there was always a cat underfoot—and he appeared between one breath and the next like he had always been there and I was just too blind to see it until then. I thought he was an angel, though, not a god, because he looked the way angels were supposed to look. But not regular angels, because he wasn't a regular angel. No, he made me think of the fact that Lucifer himself was once one of them, all eyes with the gleam of a sharp slash of a slim knife, mouth set in a sly curve that spoke of deadly promise…
"Hey, little girl," he drawled, his voice a lackadaisical caress against the ears. He walked over to me with the kitten carefully cradled in his hands, his gait speaking of ninja training. "Aren't kids like you supposed to be in school?" He was like a crow, I thought absently, his hair like feathers and his bones hollow.
I shrugged. "Nah." I cringed after the word left my mouth. Mother would probably pinch me if she ever caught me speaking so coarsely, and her pinches were nothing to scoff at. "Mother and father say that my health is delicate," I said. Actually, the only reason I was outside of the house was because I was practicing sneaking out in a stealth exercise, the first of many to come. And though I wasn't much of a sensor, I knew Itachi's signature like I did my own, and I felt that he was monitoring me from the trees, probably to make sure that I was alright.
At this, he looked surprised. "So you're Chiyome, then," he said thoughtfully, stroking the top of the kitten's head, looking for all the world like a stereotypical Bond villain.
Because of this, I was instantly suspicious. "You know of me?" I activated my Sharingan to check for any sign of trickery, and he flashed his back at me. His three tomoe showed his status as an elite member of the clan, which made me lower my hackles.
"I do," he confirmed, looking at me with the lazy interest of a snake sunning itself on a rock. "I think everyone in the clan does. The poor mad daughter of the head family, hidden away from the world like a badly-kept secret…"
I rolled my eyes. "They call me mad, do they?" I smirked wryly. "It seems that the rumors do have some seed of truth in them."
"They also say you're some kind of prodigy," he added after a beat, watching me carefully. "A crazy one, but aren't all prodigies to some degree? A Sharingan activated so young, larger than average chakra stores even for an Uchiha, a high intelligence… The potential to match Itachi one day, they say."
I shook my head. "Itachi-niisama is far beyond me. Itachi-niisama can do anything," I said resolutely, because I believed it, believed it in the very core of me.
He laughed, and then walked closer to me, sinking into a squat so that he was at eye-level. "You wanna know a secret?" he said to me conspiratorially. He beckoned me closer, and I unconsciously stepped forward. He leaned in, and I had to fight the urge to flinch away because he was too close. Shisui was a like a razor blade and I never intended to put such a thing to my throat.
"What is it?" I asked despite myself, because he had a strange sort of charisma.
"I can beat your precious nii-sama, nine times out of ten," he told me with a shark's bloody smile, and I reeled back in shock. Itachi was supposed to be the pinnacle of everything a shinobi could be, and the thought of his defeat was unimaginable, unthinkable.
At my expression, he snorted. "Oh, don't look so surprised. Your brother is good—damn good, actually—but he isn't infallible. He's young, human, and bleeds red just like you and me. He can be defeated just like anyone else."
I felt something fierce rose within me. "Not for long," I said, and I felt my hands curl up into fists. "Soon, he'll surpass you. He'll surpass everyone."
He laughed. "That, I'm not gonna disagree with you on. But all it takes is one mistake… Nobody is perfect, Chiyome-chan." He said it mockingly, almost making me feel like the child I wasn't. He ruffled my hair, making me pout, and he got up and started walking away.
I frowned, remembering something. "Hey, that's not fair—I never got a name from you," I called out after him.
He half turned his head over his shoulder, and I saw his smile widen, showing a bit more canine tooth than was polite. "Call me Shisui." Then he flickered away like a mirage, leaving no evidence that he was there at all, save for the grass that was crushed under his sandals.
I decided then that I liked his smile, and I wanted to see more of it. More of him.
In my old life, when I was younger, I used to ask my mom to buy candy all the time, or some other kind of sugary snack, and she always said no. I got so used to her saying no that I eventually stopped asking her for anything, instead just accepting what I was given. But certain things happened that made us resolve the grievances (unrelated to the candy, of course) between us, and when I asked her for things, she would do her best to deliver. So I always tried to make sure my requests were reasonable, and made sure not to abuse her kindness. Still, there was always that reflexive bit of surprise when I asked her for something and she said "okay", so the habit of never asking people for help stuck with me.
Thus, Mother and Father were quite surprised when the next day, after my morning physical conditioning, I asked them politely, "Can Shisui-niichan come over?" I blinked innocently at them, and I figured that adding the cutesy honorific couldn't hurt.
I saw them exchange a shocked and concerned glance over breakfast, which Mother insisted that we eat together, and I realized then that I might have laid it on a bit too thick. After a moment of silent debate, it was Mother who spoke up.
"Why, dear one?" she asked me gently, with a touch of confusion. She didn't ask how I had met him, because Mother and Father didn't openly acknowledge the stealth exercises.
I decided to be honest with her. "I like him, even though I don't usually like people, and I'm getting rather lonely," I told her frankly. Mother was visibly surprised, which was understandable because I usually wasn't this direct when it came to how I felt. She looked to Father for his judgement, and he cleared his throat awkwardly.
"I… suppose that I could ask him to come here when he's not on missions." At my subsequently surprised and thankful look aimed at him, he hastily added, "He is a good teacher when it comes to the inner workings of the Sharingan, and the best when it comes to genjutsu, so it will be beneficial for your training."
I almost rolled my eyes. Of course it was. It was always training, training, training; that's all there ever was for this man. But I didn't say anything, and I trusted that Mother and Father would follow through.
Indeed, some time later—I didn't know how long, because I never bothered to keep track of time as it was so elusive to me—found me sitting in front of him in seiza while he went into teacher-mode.
"Chiyome," he said, his eyes closed and his lashes brushing his cheeks. "What do you know of genjutsu?"
I launched into the textbook explanation, because I knew that that was what he was looking for. "Genjutsu is the art of illusion. A genjutsu is created when a ninja controls the chakra flow of a target's cerebral nervous system, thereby affecting their five senses—"
He cut me off with a wave of the hand, nodding, eyes still closed. "Alright, that's enough. It seems you know the basics. But… genjutsu goes deeper than that. In a fight, if you know how to use it, it can be what decides a victory or a defeat. The body is fallible, the body can be broken. No, the ultimate test of a shinobi and their ability to endure is targeting their mind. Because the mind can keep going when the body cannot, and if even that is broken, then there is nothing else."
I listened, enraptured. "How do I do that?" I breathed, shivering at the thought of such power. "How do I break someone's mind?"
Shisui smiled that knife-smile of his, eyes opening and revealing Sharingan-red. "Answering that question is the basis of all genjutsu," he said. "But don't get ahead of yourself, because only the very best actually know the answer, and it's different for every person."
I frowned. "Then how do I start?" I persisted. I was still in seiza, and the tops of my feet were hurting, but I ignored it.
"Hm…" He frowned, absently rubbing his chin. "Well, the most effective lies come from knowing the real truth. That's actually why us Uchiha are so good with genjutsu: our eyes allow us to parse the truth of the world from the lies. So first, you have to know what is you and what is not, because how can you cast an illusion if you don't even know what is real? But the hard part is that it is always you until you decide it is not."
I looked at him flatly.
He threw his head back in a laugh, a loud one that started from deep within the chest, and I quietly contemplated if he was really truly the same person I'd seen just a couple moments ago. "Ah, I guess I hit you with a bit too much higher concepts with that, huh?" He shook his head. "Sometimes I forget you're six."
"I'm almost seven, you know," I pointed out mulishly.
He waved my words away nonchalantly. "Whatever. Since you're 'almost seven' then, I'll still teach you a jutsu. It's called the Shunshin, and it should be easy for you to use since you have the Sharingan…"
I never did end up being very good at genjutsu. Oh, I could cast the ones I had copied and implant subtle mental suggestions, and I could dispel genjutsu, but compared to Shisui, who took the techniques he copied and was able to expand and improve them and make them practically a form of art—well. I was nothing but a third-rate copy.
Shisui is dead now. I didn't see him die, didn't watch him breathe his last. He died alone.
"The End is the Beginning is the End" was a song made in 1995 by the alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins, and thus it definitely feels very 90s, during which the alternative scene was a place of long leather trench coats and hair gelled up in glistening spikes, of plaid skirts and chokers woven from plastic twine. The song was released as a single along with three other tracks: "The Guns of Love Disastrous", "The Ethers Tragic", and "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning".
"The Beginning is the End is the Beginning" is a sort of converse to "The End is the Beginning is the End". It has more of a strange, swampy sound, and different lyrics, and is also in a lower key. Overall it sounds darker, and deeper and creepier—though the general melody and chorus is the same. I like this version better, because of its slower, almost ponderous pace, and because of the lyrics, which resonate with something deep within me, especially now.
Send a heartbeat to
The void that cries through you
Relive the pictures that have come to pass
For now we stand alone
The world is lost and blown
And we are flesh and blood disintegrate
With no more to hate…
(I'm so tired.)
On Mars, there is a system of canyons called the Valles Marineris. They stretch more than 2,500 miles (4,000 km), so long that one part could be in day and another part in night, and are about 23,000 ft (7 km) deep, filled with an ocean of fog. Does the human heart know chasms so abysmal?
Mars doesn't exist here. It might as well not exist at all, except as a memory in my head. Hell, I don't know if this world has discovered the existence of planets. Oh, I was taught basic astronomy so that if I ever got lost I could find my position from the stars, but ninja schooling didn't exactly cover our relative place in the universe. Come to think of it, though, Itachi probably knows.
I gently nudge him awake from where he is leaned against the wall, deep in sleep. "Big brother," I say after his eyes flutter open. "What is the shape of the world?"
We are huddled in the cargo hold of a ship, taking passage on a smuggling vessel that is going from the Oshima Peninsula to Naoshima, the island that is the heart of Water Country, where Kirigakure lies. We have made two stops over the past four days, meaning that we are on the last stretch of the journey. Itachi has cast a chakra-cloaking genjutsu over us—which I copied for later use—and we are both in disguise as rural village bumpkins enthralled by Water Country propaganda, hoping to seek fame and fortune in the career path of a ninja.
He gives me an odd look, still hazy and tired. "What do you mean?" His voice sounds rough.
"Well…" I furrow my brows. "If this boat goes past Kirigakure, past Water Country, past everything… Where would it go?"
He nods, becoming more alert, and he clears his throat. "That is a good question. Beyond the ocean, there is—"
But whatever he is about to say is interrupted by the door to the cargo hold being cracked open, and a voice saying, "We're here!"
The light is bright after staying in the damp and musty cargo hold for so long, and I bury my face into Itachi's shoulder to help stave off the urge to activate my Sharingan in order to alleviate my discomfort and take away the brief disorientation that comes from not being able to see for a bit. He stands up, and I cling to him tighter, not wanting to let go, so he humors me, shifting me around so that I am carried on his back as he gets out of the cargo hold.
My eyes adjust—faster than my old eyes did, but it is still disorienting and annoying, especially with how I have come to rely on these new eyes of mine—and I look at my new surroundings.
We are on the docks, which appear to be on the outskirts of Kirigakure proper. The sky is a flat whitish-gray like a sheet of paper, making everything seem less real, and the fog certainly doesn't help, so my first sight of the Village Hidden in the Mist makes it seem like a bizarre fever dream. The architecture is strange, even for this world: the buildings are like a weird mix between paper towel rolls and Mayan ruins, and there is greenery everywhere, pouring through cracks in the masonry. The wind smells faintly of mildew, making me wrinkle my nose.
When Itachi says goodbye to the sailors and begins to make his way through the village with me still hanging off his back like a baby koala bear, my view of Kirigakure doesn't much improve. I see starving street urchins running around with thin limbs and hollow eyes, and they attempt to pickpocket Itachi before he smacks their searching fingers away with extreme prejudice. The air is pungent and thick, reeking of wet garbage, and I can feel his irritation at having to mask his ninja status by letting the dirty water seep into his sandals instead of walking on top of the puddles. Drops of water that have collected on the leaves of the vines and shrubbery and even the occasional tree drip down my neck.
"What a dump," I murmur into Itachi's neck, suddenly feeling tired. "Do I really have to live here, big brother?"
He says nothing in return, but I feel him squeeze my leg reassuringly.
After about five or six hours of walking, during which I drift in and out of dozing, we arrive in a marginally nicer part of the city, which basically means that there is less trash and less orphans. However, it is darker out, so there are all sorts of people prowling the streets, and when is a sign jutting out from the side of a building that indicates it is an inn, Itachi makes a beeline towards it. When he sweeps in, he lets me off his back, and when he straightens up, his previously subdued demeanor goes away, leaving a predator's lithe grace instead.
The old woman behind the counter straightens up at the sight of us. "Listen 'ere, I don't want any trouble—"
Itachi cuts her off with a sharp glare, letting some of his irritation shine through his normally placid demeanor. "One room, for me and my sister. How much?"
She begins to bluster. "Don't you take that tone with me! Why, I oughta—"
"How much?" Itachi grinds out, letting out a brief spark of killing intent that has her pale and shaking.
The old woman scowls, after he kindly gives her a moment to recover. "300 ryo, but double tha' for my silence, shinobi-san," she spits, and I see her clench her hands to stop them from shaking.
Itachi nods, uncowed in the face of her hostile demeanor. "Very well," he says, and he takes out one of the scrolls that he has tucked into his already-full obi. He unseals it, revealing a wallet in a puff of smoke, from which he takes the proper amount of money. The old woman snatches the money from him and throws the key in his direction, and he catches it deftly.
"Up the stairs, second room to the left," she grunts, and as we leave I see her grab a broom and start angrily sweeping the floor.
The room itself is spartan, bare, with only one bed, and a small window. It's positively filthy compared to the Uchiha compound, but in my old life I'd stayed in much more shady places when traveling. My mother always cared more about seeing the place itself, about getting the feel of a city, experiencing the sights and sounds and tastes, because a bed was just like any other bed and sleeping one night was just like any other, but some of these places were a once in a lifetime experience. Kirigakure is nothing like the places I went to with my mother. (My mother, not Mother with a capital M but the one who was there first—) But that is okay, because I want to keep those memories in a separate place, a secret place. They're mine.
I sit on the bed, and watch as Itachi quickly changes into a set of dark-colored shinobi gear. He straps his katana to his back, opens the window, and melts into the night like a living shadow. I turn on my Sharingan, and watch his chakra flit across the rooftops at a speed that still shocks me. Then I walk closer to the window, and look down. It is not very high up, because we only climbed one flight of stairs to get to our room.
With my Sharingan still on, the ugliness of this place is shown in full detail, the grimy alleyways and sickly-looking vines, and those squat trees that sprout up in random places. I suddenly feel the urge to be higher up, to be farther away from it all. So I climb out the window, sticking myself to the side of the building with chakra, and I walk up to the roof.
I look down, Sharingan still on. It is not high enough. Everything looks too close—I can still see all of the detail, all the canals clogged up with human waste and all the gutters clogged up with blood. I walk over to the edge of the roof and jump, latching onto the side of the next building over, which is what looks to be a significantly taller housing complex.
I climb to the top, making sure to mask my chakra, and I sit on the roof of the housing complex. It still looks terrible, still ugly, and the only difference is that I can see more of it, can see the rapists and whores and other vermin prowling the streets.
I wonder if Konoha would look the same from this high up.
I think of the effects of the Sharingan, about what seeing the ugly truth of the world in such detail does to a person, and I also think of the beginning of the story by Hans Christian Andersen called "The Snow Queen".
Once upon a time there was a wicked sprite who had made a mirror with the power of causing all that was good and beautiful when it was reflected therein, to look poor and mean; but that which was good-for-nothing and looked ugly was shown magnified and increased in ugliness. In this mirror the most beautiful landscapes looked hideous, and the best persons were turned into frights.
He ran about with the mirror, until there was not a land or a person who was not distorted in the mirror. So then he thought he would fly up to the sky, and use the mirror in heaven. But then his grip slipped, and it flew out of his hands and fell to the earth, where it was dashed into a million pieces. And then the evil of the mirror was spread throughout the world, for some of these pieces were hardly so large as a grain of sand. And when they got into people's eyes, there they stayed; and then people only had an eye for that which was evil…
I wonder for a fanciful moment if I have shards of that mirror stuck in my eyes.
For awhile I sit there in silence, gazing upon this hideous city. "We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell," Oscar Wilde once said, and I cannot help but feel the truth of that statement in this small eternity.
Eventually, I feel Itachi settle down next to me on the roof.
"That was quick," I say.
Itachi gives me an unimpressed look. "Chiyome, it's been almost four hours."
I shrug. "Like I said, quick. Especially if you're negotiating with the goddamn Mizukage for asylum when you're a traitor to an allied nation and a wanted criminal."
He rolls his eyes. "The asylum isn't for me, it's just for you. That made it much easier."
I throw my hands up in exasperation. "That's not the point. Stop being deliberately obtuse," I chide him. "It's unbecoming of you."
After our little crying session in the forest, he seemed a bit more emotionally stable, but whereas he would usually be able to muster up a smile for me, he just looks tired now, and I feel bad when he doesn't respond.
After a beat of silence, I say, "…I'm sorry."
He shakes his head. "It's nothing you did, you just… you just sounded like Mother for a second there…" His voice does not crack on the word "mother", because he is too good for that, but I can still feel his pain in my heart.
"I'm sorry," I repeat, walking up to him and giving him a hug, because even though I don't like hugs he looks like he really needs one. I say it again: "I'm sorry."
In that moment, I am apologizing for more than just reminding him of those ghosts, for more than not trying more to save him from doing what he had to do, for more than not preventing Shisui's death, for more than all of that.
"It's okay. I love you."
But even when I feel him whisper those words into my hair, I realize that it is not him I am asking forgiveness from, but myself.
And I am not sure if that will ever come.
A/N: Hey guys! So, a less plot driven chapter and a more character driven chapter. However, we get to see some of Chiyome's abilities, (she learned how to Shunshin from fucking Shunshin no Shisui, if that gives you any clue) and we get to see what's going on in Kirigakure (although the extent of Itachi's negotiations with the "Mizukage" will be seen later). I hope it wasn't boring for you, because Chiyome reveals a lot about herself here. I acknowledged the rest of the quotes in-chapter, but the part where Chiyome talks about Mars, specifically the part where she says, "Does the human heart know chasms so abysmal?" is her paraphrasing one of Dr. Manhattan's monologues. It is very late here and I am quite tired, but I would like to thank my beta nora9gina for being fantastic and lovely and wonderful and nice and angelic and all those other positive adjectives. I'd also like to thank my pals jiemae and sonyat for being nice and listening to me talk about this to them.
I always liked aliens. Or rather, the idea of aliens. Races developed entirely different from humans, or even extradimensional beings for which time was a multifaceted, tangible thing… I liked to think that somewhere in reality—whatever that means for whatever is out there—there was a place where science and religion and art coalesced into one discipline, where one did not question any rhyme or reason to existence, finding a reason for living in life itself. Where everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
Some might say that an existence like that sounds no better than an animal's. That pain and ugliness is part of the package of reality, that our struggle with those existential questions is what makes us different, special. Conversely, some might say that awareness is its own curse, and that special doesn't mean good—and don't even get me started on the subjective nature of good and bad. So: the truth, regardless of concepts like "right" or "wrong," simply depends on who you are as a person and what you believe.
I suppose that I might as well be an alien now, merely wearing this skin like a chrysalis. And people grow and change—when the chrysalis breaks, I wonder what will come out?
But I'm getting off track.
It was about a week after I started getting tutoring with Shisui. He'd left and then hadn't come back yet, so presumably he was on a longer mission. I was going stir crazy as the time seemed to drag on. Luckily it was about time for another stealth exercise, and I had moved up in skill to the point where I best learned with hands-on experience, so I would sneak out of the compound again with Itachi watching me. Which was great, because I desperately needed the fresh air.
Actually, I assume that Mother and Father allowed it for that express purpose, as they probably thought their unstable daughter needed some form of an outlet—being cooped up every hour of every day couldn't possibly be good for my already fragile "health". (They always put it like that, they never specifically mentioned anything about the truth of my fractured mental state, instead choosing to mask the harsh reality of their poor mad daughter with kinder words.)
Out of some morbid sense of curiosity, when I "snuck out"—Itachi close behind, of course—I decided to go to the Academy and look at the canon characters. As I made my way past the Uchiha policemen that were patrolling the district, I could tell that they knew I was there and intentionally left small gaps for me to get through in their own way of humoring me, because Itachi let himself be noticed as well and they knew he would take care of me. Like Shisui said, I was kind of an open secret, and they felt sorry for me, they all did, so they let me have this.
When I arrived at the Academy, I cloaked my chakra as best as I could and scaled up the wall of the building. I quickly flitted from window to window, scanning the classrooms for that distinctive head of sunny blond hair. And when I got to the fifth window on the second floor of the building, I found him.
I casted the Tōton Jutsu, a technique that Jiraiya himself invented for spying purposes and the Uchiha clan appropriated, and I scanned the room and noted the positions of the Rookie Nine amongst all the pointless cannon fodder. Kiba, Chōji, Shikamaru, and Naruto sat in one group, and Hinata and Shino sat in a pair together, as did Ino and Sakura, the latter of which was strange, because didn't they break up their friendship? Well, there was no Sasuke to cause them to become rivals, because he didn't exist. (Which was my fault. Whoops.)
Since I had picked out all of them, I decided to examine them in greater detail, and I turned on my Sharingan, which only highlighted the fact that they were all… tiny. Cheeks still lined with baby fat, eyes aglow with childish naïveté, little faces bright and open—wait.
My gaze rested on one particular figure. I peered closer at the future savior of the world, the champion, the one who was all. He was troubled, a sky clouded over, and something about that was deeply wrong to me. Naruto was supposed to be the hero—uncompromising, unfaltering, even in the face of armageddon. But he just looked so terribly small.
I don't know how long exactly I sat there just watching him, feeling the heat from the overhead sun seep into my shirt.
When the Academy let out for the day, I cancelled the Tōton Jutsu and checked the strain on my chakra, and I discovered that I wasn't terribly tired. I followed him home then, because I didn't feel like going back to the house, and I used my Sharingan to keep a lock on him as I trailed him while he made his way through the packed streets. The crowd itself was oppressive, and the only reason I kept myself from shuddering and panicking was because I had been trained to do this, and none of these people were as dangerous as Shisui.
I could have just taken to the rooftops, but it was a popular path for higher-ranking ninja, mainly jounin and ANBU, and I knew that I definitely wasn't good enough to conceal myself from them, even with Itachi's help. So I stuck to the streets, utilizing every bit of stealth I had and trusting my brother to cover me whenever I messed up.
I followed Naruto to what the sign above the door told me was an orphanage. He went inside, and I decided to go after him, because the only other people in there were stupid children and some worthless older genin, and they definitely had no chance of detecting me, even without the Tōton Jutsu. It was a rather small building for an orphanage, almost stooped-looking in nature—it was probably old, probably one of the buildings that the First Hokage built with his Mokuton, judging from the still seamless nature of its construction.
Naruto walked down the narrow corridor leading to the orphanage's tatami mat rooms, where I could see children playing and laughing and reading. He walked past these rooms, and opened a nondescript door at the end of the hallway, which put me in a bit of a tight spot, because I didn't know if that room had any windows and even if it did I wasn't sure if I could pick out which one it was, meaning that either way I couldn't watch him anymore. And something inside me violently protested at that; I didn't want to let him out of my sight yet.
I was never an impulsive person, and yet when I saw the door closing behind him I couldn't stop myself. Just before the door shut, I slipped inside, abandoning any attempts of concealing myself in favor of getting inside that room. It was strange, my loss of control, almost like…
Like my body moved on its own, I thought with a bitter smirk.
I looked around the room. It was small, like a closet, with a small futon set up in the corner and two large boxes, one stuffed with rumpled clothes and the other filled with instant ramen and various miscellany.
"Oi!" My eyes locked with Naruto, who was on the defensive, his own eyes narrowed in what was probably supposed to be an intimidating manner and just looked kind of constipated. "Who—wait, I know who you are. You're Chiyome! Uchiha Chiyome!"
It was my turn to be defensive. "How do you know my name?" I demanded. I didn't remember introducing myself to him, he only told me his name before I—
"Well, everyone in class was talking about you after you went all weird," he said, and then looked to remember something. "Hey, wait! What the hell are you doing in my room?"
I kept quiet, unsure of what to say, my mind frantically searching for something to stall him.
"If you don't tell me, I'll scream," Naruto told me, picking up on my hesitation. "Then everyone will know you're here."
"Fine," I said, letting out a sigh. "I'm sneaking out from my house… it gets so boring there. All I do is train, and I needed a breath of fresh air." Inwardly, I berated myself. I couldn't believe I had been so stupid. Why did I do that? Why did I just reveal myself like that?
He looked sympathetic. "That sounds like it sucks," he said with a nod. "Why did you follow me, though?"
I shrugged. "That's not important," I said, waving his question off. "I'll just say that you're interesting and leave it at that."
He looked ready to protest, but I glared at him forbiddingly and turned on my Sharingan for extra effect, which made him seem to decide against it. "Sheesh, fine." I heard him add in a mutter, "Chiyome-chan is scary…"
I kept my glare on him, because I didn't appreciate the sass, and he began to shift around awkwardly. After a beat, I relented, turning my Sharingan off, and I got a burst of inspiration. "Let's go outside," I said, as a peace offering.
"How are we gonna do that? I've tried to sneak out before, but the mean lady always stops me!" Naruto grumbled the last part.
I looked at him like he was an idiot, probably because he was. "If you wanted to sneak out, why wouldn't you just do so when she lets you out for school?"
He actually looked surprised at the idea. "Wow! I didn't think of that."
I was about to snort and then caught myself, but I couldn't help the fondness in my voice as I said, "Idiot." He reminded me of happier times, of sun-soaked summers spent reading manga about a boy with a demon in his belly and love in his heart—he was the personification of everything precious about this world, and God help me but I liked him, more than I had any right to.
He stopped short like he had been struck, and then looked at me like he'd never seen anything quite like me before, like a window had opened inside of him. "You…" He visibly steeled himself, and any hint of his previous vulnerability was gone. "How are we gonna sneak out?" he said instead of continuing his previous statement.
"Don't worry about that," I said slyly, choosing to accept his deflection, and I made the hand seals for the Tōton Jutsu. I'd only practiced covering another person on Shisui, so it took me a bit to get it, but in the end it was actually easier because Naruto was overall smaller in size.
"Whoa!" he exclaimed, examining his transparent hands, and I shushed him. "Whoa," he said in a more subdued tone.
I rolled my eyes and tugged him out of the room, and we made our way out of the orphanage. He quickly learned how to move more quietly than he usually did, because I pinched him like Mother did to me every time he stepped out of line, but he was still too loud for my taste, and there were a couple of close calls.
When we ended up outside, the sun was sinking lower and the sky was beginning to be painted with streaks of orange and pink and gold. I led Naruto to an alleyway a safe distance from the orphanage and cancelled the Tōton Jutsu, and I felt a wave of fatigue wash over me. It was no surprise that I was starting to feel tired. I'd been running all around Konoha, getting to the Academy and following Naruto, and while normally that wouldn't be so bad, I'd also burned up a lot of chakra using the Tōton Jutsu because my control wasn't quite up to par.
Naruto looked worried. "You okay?" He reached out a steadying hand to my shoulder, which I brushed off.
"I just… guh… need a minute," I groaned. But the minute turned into much longer than that, because I woke up unaware that I had even fallen asleep in the first place.
I sat up lightning fast and just barely missed banging my head against Naruto's chin, and my cheeks warmed when I realized that I had been sleeping with my head in his lap. I grimaced when I noticed that we were still in the dirty alleyway.
He looked surprised. "Oh, you're awake!"
"Yeah," I said groggily, wincing, and I pushed myself fully up in a sitting position.
For a minute we sat there in silence, Naruto unnaturally quiet and me trying to get awake all the way.
"What's that?" he suddenly asked me, pointing up at the sky. I followed the direction that his finger was pointing in, and I saw what he was referring to.
"That's a shooting star," I said. "People make wishes on them because they believe that they will come true." I used simpler terminology because I didn't feel like explaining meteors to him.
I could hear the wonder in his voice. "Wow! Ne, ne, Chiyome-chan, what would you wish for, then?"
"I don't make wishes, Naruto," I said, shaking my head. "They don't come true."
"But what would you wish if they did?" he insisted, turning his head to look at me. I could feel his eyes boring into the side of my face.
I sighed, and a story came to the front of my mind, and I repeated the words from that story.
"I'd wish for shooting stars to disappear forever."
I turned to him, about to tell him that I was going to go, suddenly feeling weary, but then I saw a look on his face that was filled with melancholy, and I knew that I couldn't leave him like this.
"Wishes, I think, are for weak people. If you want something to happen, you have to make it happen, you can't just wish for it and then expect it to come true without any effort on your part," I explained. I regarded him solemnly. "What would you wish for if it would come true?"
"I'd wish to become Hokage," Naruto muttered, gaze fixed on the ground, sounding strangely shy. "I'd wish for everyone in the village to acknowledge me."
I shook my head. "You don't need wishes for that, Naruto—you're going to make that dream come true, but it's not going to be done by some dumb shooting star."
His head snapped up to look at me. "You really think so? You really think I can become Hokage and get everyone in the village to acknowledge me?" Despite his overall intensity, his voice was soft, but undeniably hopeful, and yet there was something uncomfortably fragile about that hope, and I was very aware that in this moment I could easily break it—break him.
"Yeah," I said with unmistakable surety, looking him dead in the eye, because I could see even without the aid of the Sharingan that this impossible boy and his bright smile would break hearts, and his spark would ignite a fire in all of mankind. "You will. You'll do that, and so much more. You'll change the world as we know it, Naruto."
He was quiet for what felt like a long time.
"Why?" he finally burst out, head bowed, voice shaking, hands balled into white-knuckled fists. "Why would you say that? You don't even know me!"
"I know you more than you think," I told him, doing my best to convey every ounce of sincerity I had in my gaze.
He could see that I was telling him the truth, and he looked awed, and a bit apprehensive. "How?" he whispered.
I threw my head back and laughed, an ugly, jagged thing, and I saw him flinch at the jarring sound out of the corner of my eye. "I don't know," I said.
"Why did you laugh, then?" he asked me. "When you first met me, I mean."
I looked down pensively. "Honestly? I was having a hard time believing that I was actually meeting you," I said. "You have to understand: I know so many things I shouldn't know, things that no one should know, things that have happened already and things that have yet to be…"
Naruto thought for a moment. "That sounds hard," he said at last, brow furrowed.
"It is," I agreed. "But still, I'm happy that I know the things I know, because they let me know you." I smiled at him then, and it felt oddly natural. Then I saw him blush, visible even in the dim light, and I cocked my head to the side in a silent question.
"You're… you're really pretty when you smile like that," he mumbled by way of explanation, sounding horrifically embarrassed.
He looked so cute that I couldn't help but laugh again, but this time it was in delight, and I felt so much lighter inside. And in that moment, with Naruto at my side, wearing that shy smile on his face, and the stars overhead, shining bright, I thought that if I could stay in this moment forever, then maybe, just maybe, I would be okay.
Itachi and I leave the inn after spending the night there, and we make our way to what he tells me is the administrative building of Kirigakure, eating our breakfast as we walk.
Everything looks softer in the colder morning light, the ever-present mist a comforting blanket of whiteness instead of a shroud of dead dreams. The shadows no longer loom so terribly, and the garbage and other filth on the streets is merely pathetic instead of stomach-turning. This city is afraid of me, I think, and though the words are not mine they are nevertheless true. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown…
I tug on Itachi's hand, which is clasping mine as we walk through Kiri. "Big brother, am I going to meet the Mizukage?" It would be strange if I am, since he was so adamant about me staying at the inn yesterday.
His eyes tighten around the corners. "Yes," he says, and he sounds tense. "But only briefly."
I don't press on what is troubling him, merely humming in acknowledgement of his statement. "Why specifically Kiri?" I ask instead, going for a different line of questioning. "Why not Iwa, or Suna, or even Kumo?" It's something that has been niggling at me, I just haven't had a chance to ask.
Itachi grimaces, or at least what passes as a grimace for him crosses his face. "I have a… contact, here. I procured a place for you here through him."
My eyebrows rise. "Wow. He must be pretty high up, if you were able to get it done so easily."
"You could say that," Itachi concedes. We arrive at the building then, a squat, round thing made out of concrete with the kanji for "water" emblazoned proudly on a circular sign. He stops in his tracks.
"Big brother?" I question him, glancing at him askance.
He steps closer and turns me to face him, hands weighing down my small shoulders. "Chiyome," he says, looking grave. "I need you to be very careful with the Mizukage. Be quiet, and do your best to make him dismiss you. His attention is not a good thing."
I nod, suddenly feeling apprehensive. "I'll try…"
He steps back and takes my hand once more, and he sweeps into the building like he has every right to be there and no one can tell him otherwise, pulling me along. I do my best to mimic him. Every time we are stopped on the way to the Mizukage's office, we get past, which either says good things about Itachi's ability with genjutsu or bad things about Kirigakure's internal security. Most likely both, actually.
We make it to the Mizukage's office, and already inside is one male who is already watching us when we walk in the room, probably having sensed us beforehand. I take a moment to examine him, and his appearance tugs at my memory. When I realized where and who I was, I made it a point to recall as much as I could about canonical Sasuke's life, and I remember Team Taka, and Suigetsu. And an important part of Suigetsu's backstory was his older brother, Mangetsu…
"Ah, you made it," the Mizukage says, his voice light and musical, sounding for all the world like we are old friends that he is delighted to see. "Itachi-san, welcome. I trust you slept well?"
"Sufficiently, Mizukage-sama," Itachi says stiffly, and to me he looks ready to bolt at any moment. What could cause my invincible brother to act in such a way?
I watch him, and I see that his eyes are steadily focused on the Mizukage—or more specifically, the shadows behind him. I turn on my Sharingan reflexively, and I see an answering red gleam from the darkness. Another Sharingan? But—wait. Shit. Obito is still in control over of me to forget, really, but I was so focused on Konoha that the details of the other villages slipped my mind.
Itachi's behavior is suddenly much more understandable.
He must sense my realization, because I feel him tense even further, which I didn't even think was possible. The "Mizukage" follows the movement to me, probably seeing the recognition in my eyes, and he lights up.
"Oh," he says, almost breathy, excited, like he knows what I am thinking. He reminds me of a dog I saw in my old life, eyes glazed in a strange sort of sickness. Don't get too close, it'll bite you… "How interesting."
He does not say anything after that, merely gazing at me with an unnerving intensity.
Suigetsu's older brother clears his throat awkwardly. "Mizukage-sama."
"Ah, yes! Of course!" Like a puppet on strings, he becomes animated once more, dancing on Obito's command. "Itachi-san, Chiyome-chan, meet the Hōzuki clan heir. Mangetsu, meet the Uchiha siblings."
At his words, we eye each other up, the tension in the room racketing up at the mention of my and Itachi's last name. The Uchiha clan is a feared entity in the world, and a known founding member of Konoha. The tension spikes as the Mizukage laughs and smiles indulgently.
"Oh, youth," he says pleasantly with a fond shake of the head. "So eager."
"Uchiha?" Mangetsu finally says sharply, relaxing after the Mizukage makes no move to attack. "But they're from Konoha."
The Mizukage nods. "Indeed, they are. I suppose I should explain why you're here. Chiyome is a refugee, and I am assigning you to take care of her. She will go with you and Suigetsu on missions, as Itachi-san has assured me that she is quite capable for her age, and when not on missions she will stay and train with you and your brother. I'm going to trust your judgement on how you handle her."
"Of course, Mizukage-sama," Mangetsu says with a respectful bow, looking solemn. "I will not fail you. If I may, though, I would like to ask a question."
"Speak freely," the Mizukage concedes.
"Why was I chosen for this mission?" Mangetsu asks.
"Multiple reasons, but mainly because you have a higher standing due to your clan and will be able to give Chiyome better living conditions, and you have experience with taking good care of younger shinobi, namely your younger brother. You are also strong, and will be able to protect her most of the time, and you also often do missions and train with the Seven, who will be able to protect her when you cannot," he answers. "All of these are important because Chiyome is a high priority target."
If anything, Mangetsu looks even more confused. "A high priority target?" he repeats.
"Yes," the Mizukage says, his airy demeanor sharpening to something cold and terrifying. "She is one of the last living members of the Uchiha clan, who were recently all killed by Itachi-san here, the other living member. Of course, I trust that you will be discreet with this knowledge?" he adds lightly at Mangetsu's shocked look.
"I… Yes, Mizukage-sama. But why are we accepting her here? If Konoha finds out—"
"When Konoha finds out, they will do nothing," the Mizukage interrupts. He does plan to destroy them, right? I don't really remember his motives. Then again, he had long gone mad. "They are still reeling from losing one of their founding clans, and by the time they recover, they will deem the risk not worth it. Any other questions?"
Mangetsu still looks troubled, but ultimately decides not to argue with his superior. Smart choice. "No, Mizukage-sama."
The Mizukage nods. "Very well, then. You are dismissed."
Mangetsu gives him a deep bow, and Itachi does as well, so I follow their examples. Then we all file out of the office, me first, Itachi in the middle, and Mangetsu last, because I trust Itachi to watch my back, Mangetsu does not trust Itachi with his, and Itachi is more than good enough to take care of himself. The Hōzuki takes the lead once we exit the building, leading us to an unspecified location that becomes apparent as we get closer.
"Why are you taking us to the docks?"
Mangetsu looks at me like he thinks I'm an idiot. "Itachi-san has to leave," he says, coming to a stop as we reach our destination. "Mizukage-sama only said that you are to stay, not him."
And for a moment, the world
"W-What?" I hate the catch in my breath, hate my weakness—but I hate the thought of Itachi leaving far, far more.
"It's okay, Chiyome," Itachi says, hand coming to rest on my head. "He's right. It's time for me to go." His face looks serene, accepting, and I hate hate hate it. It's all happening too fast, too sudden. The words strike me hard, and I feel as if there is a heavy weight on my chest, making it hard to breathe.
He puts his hand on my cheek, tracing thin pink scar there from his katana. His eyes are wide, like dark mirrors, and I can see the mournfulness in them—or perhaps they are reflecting my own eyes back at me.
"You know what I said. I know you do," he says gently, gently wiping away the tears that I didn't even know I was shedding.
"No." I shake my head, and my hands ball up into fists. "NO!" I latch onto him, clinging to the front of his shirt for dear life. His shirt feels wet. It is not raining.
I peel myself away after a moment, somewhat regaining control over myself, and I look up at him with doleful, wet eyes, scrubbing at my wet face with a clenched fist.
"Why, though? Why can't you stay? Why are you leaving me?" I thought you loved me, I pointedly do not say.
(I think part of me has expected this, and I just didn't want to admit it. Ever since he said that he only got asylum for himself, I've suspected in the back of my mind. But. But. I hoped I would I have time, I hoped that I could spend a bit longer with him, I hoped I had heard wrong… I hoped.
I was a fool.)
I watch him step away from me and walk up to one of the departing boats. He talks to a sailor, and is almost immediately let on the boat, presumably through use of genjutsu. He doesn't use a henge, which is a small mercy. I get to see his face for that much longer.
After a minute or so, I see him come off the boat, and irrationally, hope blooms in my heart. Maybe he isn't leaving? Maybe he's staying for a bit longer? Maybe-maybe-maybe.
He walks back up to me, and even without the Sharingan, he can see that stupid little flicker of hope.
"The boat is leaving in five minutes," he says, not unkindly.
"Oh…" My voice sounds small, shaky, like I am some child. I hate it. (Please no no no no—)
I feel his arms come around me, and he holds me close to him. He feels warm, and safe, and I wish that this moment would never end. But all too soon, he pulls away, and ghosts over to the boat on steps so light that I feel like I have to keep my eyes firmly fixed on him in order to tether him to the earth. (Don't leave me don't leave me don't leave me—)
He gets on the boat, which begins to slowly drift away, and I keep my eyes fixed on it the entire time. I turn on my Sharingan, because I don't ever want to forget this moment. (DON'T LEAVE NEVER LEAVE NEVER LEAVE NEVER LEAVE—)
Because my Sharingan is on, I see Itachi smile, just for me. In fact, my last sight of him is that smile, that sweet, sad smile. His voice is too far away to carry over the water, but my eyes read the movements of his lips: This isn't goodbye forever.
Not yet, goes unsaid.
Tom Waits has a singular voice, something that sounds like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car. It is the voice of gas stations in the middle of nowhere, of humid night air, of a cool drawl and a cigarette hanging crooked from the lips. It is the voice of loves lost, of a tired heart with grit in his soul and a chip on his shoulder. I remember the voice of Tom Waits, I remember his songs, I remember many things—Mahler's first, Bernstein conducting, the painting of a girl with a pearl earring, Lord Byron's poems…
And they all pretend they're Orphans
And their memory's like a train
You can see it getting smaller as it pulls away
It hurts to think, but Itachi's smile is no more than one of those memories now.
And the things you can't remember
Tell the things you can't forget that—
The boat vanishes into the mist.
History puts a saint in every dream…
Itachi is gone. But it—it will be okay. I can live for him even when he's gone.
I suck in a breath.
I can, I think, and I almost believe it.
A/N: A big thanks to my beta nora9gina, and my pals sonyat and jiemae. You guys are all awesome and amazing, and NORA IS SUCH AN ANGEL I LOVE HER. The story Chiyome thinks of when she's talking about stars with Naruto is the manga Goodnight Punpun, which is v good but do not read it if you feel super down because it is super depressing. The quote from the summary, "You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style." is from Vladimir Nabokov's book Lolita. And good god do I love Nabokov, he is pretty much my writing god.
So! You've probably noticed that this is titled differently. I originally picked the title "Stealing Thunder" and used the summary I used because I wanted this fic to give off a deceptively light feel, and then when you clicked on it it would be all like DEATH and ANGST. But I realized that I want the title and the summary to reflect this fic better. So what do you think? Yes or no?
Also, what do you think of the encounter with Naruto? Did you like it or nah?
Last thing, don't forget to come back to read the last part of this chapter again in a day or so, because I will go back and edit it as I am not entirely happy with it but this chapter has been done for so long that I figured it was about time to post.
"You had a hard time, when you were first born," I remember Itachi saying to me once, looking nostalgic as he stroked my head. "You were so small… Listening to you breathe was painful. It was something about your spiritual energy that made your chakra wrong, somehow…"
What is chakra—magic? Biology? Something in between?
—a shining instance of clarity, a moment of stillness in a chaotic world. The perfect union of mind and body, a sense of oneness and crystal-clear focus. Being the only fixed point in a universe of moving infinities, the lazy circling of planets around the sun, the exact moment of singularity in the heart of a dying star. Fire, ice, and rage, man against the world, power in every inhalation of the breath, in every clench of the fist—
If one can use chakra, they can forge their own path; they can toss aside petty things like the laws of physics and bend nature to their will. When I first felt mine, I knew true strength. Things became suddenly sharper, clearer, my senses heightened—I could taste the saliva on my tongue, a hint of mint toothpaste; and see the back of my eyelids, a pink of the darkest black. I could smell Mother, holding my hand and prodding my chakra with hers—soft and warm, with an undertone of ash and ink. I could feel the dark heartbeat of the universe, the slow turn of the earth…
But I'm getting off track.
I'm not supposed to do that. Memory doesn't work in a linear fashion, but I said I would do my best. I cannot mess this up, and yet: I already mess things up by existing. Uchiha Sasuke is supposed to exist but he doesn't, and there is only me there to fill his shoes and oh god how could I ever possibly do this but
I have to try.
(And the story, the story. The story must be told. It has to be, someone has to know someone has to know someone has to know—)
The Grand Fireball Jutsu was something of a rite of passage within the Uchiha clan. Fire was who we were, it was the mark of an Uchiha just as much as our eyes were. However, one normally learned the jutsu before they activated the Sharingan, because after that, learning it became redundant, what with the whole magic eye power thing.
Unfortunately, I never got a chance to learn the jutsu before I activated mine, so the whole process was rather anticlimactic. A couple of days after I went to see Naruto, Father took me out to a training ground near our house with a supply of water available, had me turn on my Sharingan, and performed the jutsu. Then, it was my turn. Simple as that.
Well. Perhaps I'm not being fair. Learning the jutsu was anticlimactic, but performing it was definitely not.
I did the hand seals on autopilot, felt the chakra build within me and my toes curl in my sandals, took a deep breath of the early summer air—
Tongues of flame burst forth from my lips, bright and hot, swirling with my chakra, coalescing into a fireball the size of a small house. No words can express how it felt to look into the heart of that flame and know that I, and only I, was its creator. The sun was out, its rays beating down on my back, but it seemed to pale in comparison to the heat emanating in waves off the fireball. I felt like a dragon incarnate, like the wrath of god, and as my blood thrummed in my veinsI knew it was a pleasure to burn.
After what seemed like a small eternity, I cut off the chakra flow to my mouth and stopped to catch my breath, glancing at Father through hooded eyes. He looked tired—not physically tired, but like something in his soul was weary. He reached out and settled a hand on my shoulder, and I barely resisted the urge to shrug it off. It was heavy.
"Well done, Chiyome," he told me, voice hollow and mouth set in a grim line. "If you continue, you may perhaps be worthy of the name Uchiha." Like your brother, went unsaid. I didn't roll my eyes, but it was a close thing. It was always Itachi-this, or Itachi-that, like he was an ever-present ghost wreathed around my shoulders.
No wonder canon Sasuke had such a complex.
"Yes, Father," I said dutifully, and though there was no hint of any sort of attitude in my voice, he narrowed his eyes at me, looking suspicious of my agreeable nature. But after a beat, he nodded, and then made to leave the training ground, implying that I was to follow him.
My mouth moved before my brain had any say about it. "Wait," I said. Stupid of me, really.
He stopped, and turned around to meet my eyes, brows raised in silent question.
There were so many things running through my mind that I would never verbalize. Do you love me? Am I your child? Do you care? It wasn't like the answers mattered to me or anything, but for some reason I still wondered…
Instead, I said, "Can we just stay here, for a little while?" I don't know why I did it.
He didn't say anything back for a bit, the black of his clothes faded in the sunlight to something less striking. Then: "Alright." The tone was odd, fragile—gentle, even.
I decided to not think on it too deeply and sat down at the water's edge, feeling the springy grass under my hands and leaning over to look at my reflection. My black hair looked distinctly shaggy, with odd spikes falling around my shoulders and side-swept bangs, and I had wide, dark eyes, framed by thick lashes and what looked like developing dark circles. The girl looking back at me was undeniably cute, but it was offset by her serious, solemn mien.
"This is the first time I've ever seen my reflection," I realized. It was just as weird as I thought it would be, just as alien and strange. I reached out towards it, and the girl in the water reached back.
Father made a vague noise from where he had sat down a careful distance next to me. The space between us might as well have been an ocean. "Why haven't you seen it before?"
I shrugged, retracting my hand. "It never really interested me." My body was just a thing to be looked after when it got hungry and tired—sometimes not even then.
(Am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I am a man? Am I a dead girl dreaming I am Uchiha Chiyome, or am I Uchiha Chiyome dreaming I am a dead girl? A Catch-22 is a situation where there are no good options and either way I am as substantial as a wisp of wind.)
Father said nothing. He never could get used to my eccentricities, and even though nothing about his demeanor gave it away, something in me knew he was set off-kilter by my opinion on my appearance. I never quite knew what to do with him—he was such an awkward man.
As the silence stretched on between us, a divide that spanned practically the length of infinity, I turned on my eyes out of habit.
The Sharingan was truly something, I mused. The difference between seeing the world with the Sharingan and without it was like the difference between an Impressionist painting and reality. Everything looked almost flat, but also not flat, because the way I saw light and shadow was different. The opposite of chiaroscuro, really. While I could still see them, my gaze wasn't naturally drawn towards their interplay, and I perceived everything in its entirety. It was so clear, and detailed to a point that was almost overwhelming, and there was so much information I was suddenly able to glean with a glance.
I turned my gaze to the water.
(I died at sea.)
I could see everything.
("Those flying fish, they're not leaping for joy, they're jumping in terror. Bigger fish want to eat them. That luminous water, it takes its gleam from millions of tiny dead bodies. The glitter of putrescence. There is no beauty here, only death and decay.")
I looked at Father, my eyes memorizing his face. He reminded me of a tree, strong and steady, rooted firmly in the earth and tall enough to touch the sky. I remember thinking then how strange it was to be talking with a dead man walking—but isn't everyone waiting to die?
(Look away. There is no beauty here.)
Father is dead now, but he was not before; I was talking with a ghost, and as I myself am dead, the memory is finally one of mutual completeness.
I'm not aware of much after Itachi leaves.
Oh, I am vaguely aware enough to feel like I'm drowning, the wind on my face from where I am carried on his back stealing the breath from my lungs, and bile rising up in my throat. I am completely aware in that it feels like I'm dying. But whether I black out or fall asleep, I'm not sure. Nothing truly registers in my mind until I open my eyes and see the young, round face of Suigetsu.
Suigetsu is a brat, I decide two seconds after hearing him talk. It is in his smile, in his eyes, in every word his mouth forms, all of it—brat.
"A girl?" He rolls his eyes and makes a condescending noise that makes me dislike him then and there. "You don't look like much."
I scoff, feeling offended. Who the hell does this kid think he is? "I could say the same about a scrawny brat like you." I emphasize the 'you', not quite spitting it out, but still with a heavier sort of elocution.
He chances a glance at the doorway of the room I was sleeping in, presumably for his brother (who isn't even there) and he growls. "Who're you callin' scrawny? You wanna go?" Something about him looks like a wire sparking with electricity, better left alone; something to avoid, something to be wary and perhaps even frightened of.
But I'm the one with the lightning affinity.
"Please." I sit up and sneer, looking down my nose at him and tensing my muscles in preparation for a possible attack. "Like you could take me."
My talk is big, but I'm actually not sure how I would fare against him, because the only people I've fought are my tutors and Shisui, and that is no indication of how I would do in a real fight. There's also the added factor that I'm probably a bit weak right now because of all the stress and lack of good food from the past week or so must have caught up to me. What with, you know, the Uchiha clan dying, my having to leave the country, and Itachi leaving me…
Suigetsu snarls. "Oh that's it! Why, you—"
I see Mangetsu appear in the doorway of the bedroom, and he places a restraining hand on his younger brother's shoulder. "Suigetsu. Control yourself," he says. He turns to me, holding a plate of rice balls in his outstretched hand. "You passed out for a day or so. You're probably hungry."
He sounds like everything a caring older brother should be, and I want to scream at the injustice of it all because how is this fair? How does a stupid brat like Suigetsu get to have his brother when Itachi has to leave me in a place where I don't know anyone and Mother and Father are dead and I'm all alone—
For a second, I contemplate on refusing the food, on just waiting to shrivel up like a dead leaf and get blown away in the wind, but it is only for a second. I still have a duty to my brother. Killing him is what he wants. I have to remember that. And so I will put him first and give him his penance because he is my brother, and I love him.
No matter what mistakes he does, I will always love him. I have to. Because what else do I have? Without him what am I?
He is my brother and I love him.
I quietly murmur my thanks—because Mother did manage to teach me some manners, at least (and I think of her corpse, lily-pale limbs and dark hair, and I do not flinch)—and then start on the plate. I would be surprised that I had passed out for that long, but again: the stress, and the lack of food.
(The words might be tattooed on my skin for how much they are a part of me, and yet they go even deeper than that. I love him I love him I love him I love him. There is a word in this language—ikigai. It means "a reason for being". Itachi is why I continue to live and breathe; he saved me, and I love him.)
"So you're Suigetsu," I say, after swallowing my current mouthful, which seems to have caught in my throat for some reason. My eyes dart towards the sullen boy, who shoots me a glare in return. "I remember the Mizukage saying your name."
"And you're Chiyome… of Konoha," he says, spitting out 'Konoha' like it's a curse and ignoring Mangetsu's warning call of his name.
I almost laugh, because he sounds so silly, talking about Konoha like it matters to me. "I am a citizen of the world," I say instead with a shrug—Diogenes' words, this time. I remember hearing a story about him once, about how he stood in the middle of a busy street with a lantern out in the middle of the daytime. I am looking for an honest man, he said…
Suigetsu stops short, and he frowns, looking confused. "What does that mean?"
Instead of endeared like I am with Naruto, I feel exasperated by his childishness. And in this moment I think of Naruto, and (though I absolutely hate to admit it) I miss him keenly. I might see him again, but it won't be the same. It will never be like it was before, and that… hurts.
(Oh god, it hurts. Everything hurts.)
I roll my eyes, both at Suigetsu and my thoughts. "What do any words mean, in the bigger picture? They're all just made-up sounds." And yet they are still given meaning. Three syllables, one girl: Chi-yo-me. Itachi killed Mother and Father to save a place I don't even care about and if I were the last word that left Itachi's lips would it mean something?
(No. It wouldn't.)
He makes a face, wrinkling his nose like a disgruntled kitten. "You're weird," he finally says in the way of all idiotic children when confronted by something they don't understand. I do not snort, because Mother trained that out of me, but I think to myself, Kid, you're not the first person to tell me that. I am distinctly unimpressed. Weren't him and Sasuke friends in canon?
Then again—I'm not Sasuke.
I decide to focus on finishing the plate of onigiri, attacking it as politely as possible. While I eat, I absently scan the room I'm in. It looks like a bedroom, and is most likely Suigetsu's, judging from the smaller sets of clothes strewn across the floor. It's bare, utilitarian, and the only things here other than clothes are weapons. Other than that, though, it's decent and clean, which is surprising compared to the room Itachi and I stayed in.
Before he… well. Left me.
After I finish the last of the onigiri, I turn back my attention to the Hōzuki brothers, who are goggling at me.
I frown at their shocked expressions, suddenly feeling defensive. "What?"
"…That plate was supposed to be for me and big brother too, you know," Suigetsu says flatly, hands balling into fists. I feel like he's judging me, and it's pissing me off. He doesn't know me. He doesn't know my life.
My shoulders hunch in. "So?" My voice comes out waspish. "I was hungry."
One thing the doctors found out when they were examining me was that because of my abundance of spiritual energy, I had an unnaturally high metabolism, something that they said would stay with me for the rest of my life, because my cells worked harder to produce more physical energy to keep my chakra balanced. It sucks, always being hungry—starving—but I can't change it.
Why is Suigetsu even getting mad? What does he have to get mad about? He has his brother with him. I don't understand him. I don't understand these people. I don't understand this place. I don't understand this fucking world.
Mangetsu snorts. "I can see that," he says, shaking his head. His voice is smooth, and low, like the Japanese version of a country singer's drawl. "So, how're you feeling? Since you're up now, we might as well go to the training ground so I can get a good idea of your abilities."
I shrug indolently, not protesting. "It's not like I have anything better to do." I climb out of the bed and touch my toes, feeling a pleasant burn in my hamstrings, and I work on limbering up, going through a series of stretches. They're a bit harder than they usually are, but I didn't do the full set of them when I was traveling with Itachi, because we were always on the move.
I feel his absence keenly. I miss him. I miss his melancholy soul, and his sad, distant eyes, and most of all I miss having someone to hold onto in the tempest of my stupid, stupid life.
"When you finish up with that, I want you to go to the bathroom across the hall and clean up. Do you have any extra clothes with you?" I hear Mangetsu ask me, and for all the world he sounds like a responsible adult. Surprising, as he appears to be no more than seventeen.
I don't move from where I am settled in a perfect split. "Yes," I answer. While we were traveling, Itachi gave me a scroll that had extra sets of clothes for me sealed in it so that he didn't have to carry them, and I still have it with me. It's funny, in a way—he was always smarter than me, always one step ahead of me, and now I am surviving off the scraps he left.
I cannot do this, I suddenly realize. I knew it before, but it is never as clear as it is in that moment. I cannot keep thinking that Itachi's past ideas will be enough for me, that this will be enough for me to be as strong as I have to be, that this will ever be enough for me to kill him.
Itachi is a genius. I am not.
I do have time on my side, though. So there is that.
(I hope he stays better than me forever, I can't kill him, I just can't.
But I will. I have to.)
"Alright. Don't take too long," Mangetsu says as a parting shot before he ushers Suigetsu out of the bedroom.
After I finish my stretches, I do as Mangetsu says and go across the hall. While small, the bathroom there is still serviceable, and I have always been prepared to accept shitty surroundings as long as I survive. After I unseal my soap and a washcloth, I strip, leaving my dirty clothes in a pile on the floor, and I turn the knob on the shower and step under the spray, wincing at the feeling of the cold water hitting my back. It heats to the point of being scalding, and I can practically feel my skin turning red, can feel it blistering and peeling off my back until there is nothing but one open wound—
I lean my forehead against the cold tile of the wall, and I breathe. Water gets in my mouth. It tastes salty. I distantly realize that I am trembling.
When the water starts to run cold again, I scrub my skin and stare at the floor, watching the dirt accumulated from travel disappear down the drain. As soon as I'm sure that at the very least my body is clean, I get out of the shower, towel myself dry, and take out my scroll again. I unseal a clean shirt and some pants—thankfully, there are no Uchiha crests anywhere on the clothes. Itachi was too smart for that. Once I am dressed and my hair is up in a ponytail, I make my way down the hallway to where I can see the vaguest wisps of the Hōzuki brothers' chakra through the walls with my Sharingan.
"Finally," Suigetsu complains loudly once he sees me, rolling his eyes. "I thought you were gonna be there forever."
"Be nice," Mangetsu scolds him, cuffing him around the head. He gives me a once-over and nods, deeming me appropriate. "Let's go." It's painful to watch them, together, the way I was with Itachi. It's not fair, I want to scream, shout, cry out, but I don't. It is fair. I'm going to kill my brother.
It's what he wants, what he needs, I will kill him because I love him, I love him, I love him—
I'm going to kill my brother.
Our little group leaves his apartment, which is located in a nicer neighborhood near the edge of the village, a short distance from the training grounds. The ugliness of this city isn't as prominent here, although it is still present, in its crooked lines and bad air. Kiri is truly a rotten place, and I hate it already.
Once we get to an empty training ground, Suigetsu demands to fight me.
"I wanna spar with her, big brother," he says with a sense of bravado, emphasizing the word 'spar' and shooting me a venomous look. I meet his gaze impassively, except for raising an eyebrow, silently saying, Really? Is that the best you can do? Again, I am distinctly unimpressed. He's just a kid.
Mangetsu rolls his eyes and ruffles Suigetsu's hair with an easy smile, and his pointed teeth gleam. "Fine," he says with fond exasperation, shaking his head. "I was gonna have you do that anyways."
I don't buy it. If he really did want to assess my abilities, he would have done it himself. Come to think of it, this is probably just to get me some fresh air and to take my mind off Itachi leaving me. Mangetsu probably wants to indulge his little brother's desire for a fight, too.
Would Itachi indulge me like that, if someone pissed me off? Well, that's a stupid question. The only one I actually want to fight is him, and that is for the purpose of killing him. Mother and Father are dead, and I do not care about Konoha. The thought of killing him is the only thing I have to keep me going.
He is my brother, and I love him.
When we get in our ready positions, I tilt my head to the side and pull the corners of my lips up into a cold smirk. Come and get me… if you think you can handle it, my mocking expression says.
His eyes narrow into slits, and he charges forward, fist cocked back in preparation for a punch. But he telegraphs the move so bad that I don't even have to turn my Sharingan on to dodge it. I get behind him in a flash of speed and sweep his legs out from under him, and he lands in a smooth roll. As he is coming up from the roll, I get in close, and I thread my fingers through his hair, bringing his face to meet my knee that is rocketing towards him.
I want to make this stupid brat hurt.
But there is no telltale crunch of cartilage. Instead, my knee smashes into his face with a strange sort of squelch, and it feels like I've just kneed a bowl of jello. For a moment, I freeze with shock at the sensation, and that moment is enough for Suigetsu to get a hit in and knock me on my ass.
So this is the power of the Hōzuki bloodline… It's formidable. I'll give him that. But I am Uchiha, for better or worse, and this kid stands no chance.
After that, we are in a bit of a stalemate, mainly because I haven't turned on my Sharingan yet. Even without it, I'm faster than him, and more skilled, but any hit I land on him just doesn't stick, and he manages to get in some heavy blows of his own. My mind searches for a way to beat him, based on what I know about him, and I am running through my options when a line comes to my mind, a half-remembered snippet of a story from another life: Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust…
I know now what to do.
I only just began training my lightning affinity when Itachi did what he did, so I'm not very good; however, for this purpose, it's enough. And so it is that Suigetsu's greatest strength, his ability to liquefy his body at will, becomes a weakness, as I focus on the part of my chakra that crackles like leashed thunder, and lightning dances from my fingertips.
It isn't a jutsu, so I waste a good amount of my chakra and the effect is nowhere near as big as it would be if it was a proper jutsu—however, water conducts electricity, and Suigetsu is young yet. It is enough.
(It will always be enough. I will always be enough. I have to be.)
The pitiful mockery of lightning I produce has a significant effect on him, and he lets out a shout and falls over, clutching at his chest and wavering in and out of a jelly-like state.
Mangetsu clucks his tongue and walks over to Suigetsu's twitching body. He nudges him with his foot. "She was playing with you the whole time, little brother," he says, which is unfair. I would hardly call that playing. He turns his head towards me, and he looks me dead in the eye, evaluating. "She didn't turn on her dōjutsu once."
I shrug. Itachi taught me not to rely on the Sharingan in combat, but I do not tell Mangetsu this.
Suigetsu is whining, and Mangetsu helps him up, indulging and smiling in this strangely familiar way and—
I look away.
(There is no beauty here.)
A/N: FINALLY! A new chapter. I have to say this was giving me a lot of trouble, but then nora9gina came in like a writing angel and helped me get it to where it is now. This wouldn't be half as good as it is now without her help.
The quote about flying fish is from the movie "I Walked With A Zombie", which I recommend bc it's v good. "It was a pleasure to burn" comes from Ray Bradbury's book Fahrenheit 451. "I am a citizen of the world" is a quote by Diogenes the Cynic, an old philosopher. "Am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming I am a man?" is a quote from Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher. I think that's all? I'll edit this if I find any more.
So, recs! I have some recs for you. First is the fic "Blurred Lines", by the lovely ijnt. It's a Self-Insert as fem!Itachi. Omg she is a queen and she blesses me with her writing. Second is the fic "Uzumaki" by AlmostElectric, a fic about fem!Sasuke and a role reversal between canon Sasuke and Naruto. Another lovely fic by another lovely person. Seriously, Electric fucking wrecks me with her writing.
I think my style has shifted a bit in this chapter. Did you see anything different? Let me know.