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Six

 

Father says soulmarks are meaningless, and Itachi pretends not to notice the hurt flashing in his mother’s eyes.

 

“You are the heir to the Uchiha,” Father says stiffly, lifting a cup of tea to his lips. “You will do what is best for the sake of the clan. No more, no less.”

 

“And what does that have to do with soulmates?” his mother asks quietly, and Itachi stares at the half-eaten bowl of steamed rice in his palms. It’s a rather warm evening for autumn; the air feels hot, sticky.

 

Suffocating.

 

“If it comes between the clan and your soulmate, you must always choose the former.”

 

The dinner table falls silent again. Itachi glances at his mother’s wrist, where the first words his father spoke to her are inked in stiff, neat character strokes, and then to her tired eyes. He clears his throat. “Is that what you did, Father?”

 

Father fixes him with a blank stare, jaw clenching.

 

Itachi had only asked about the soulmark because he was curious. But from this angle, and under the dim lighting of the house after dusk, the words around his mother’s wrist look dark – menacing. Almost like a shackle.

 

Here his parents are, the markings on their skin physical proof of a bond that stretches beyond time and space, and yet mother looks like she is going to cry, and Sasuke has begun crying too. The sound of his younger brother’s wailing filters from his parent’s bedroom and into the dining area slowly, almost hauntingly. Almost as if in omen.

 

He goes back to finishing off his rice, even though he isn’t hungry anymore, and watches as his mother excuses herself from the table.

 

Eleven

 

Itachi’s little brother is five years old when his soulmark starts to appear, but the words form on his right wrist– not the left.

 

Apparently, Sasuke is the only known person in all of Konoha to have a soul marking on the right wrist. This is brought to the attention of the elders, but not even the Sandaime knows what it means, and eventually everyone just shrugs their shoulders and decides it’s a strange but harmless coincidence. There’s still a few years to go before the words fully form, anyways.

 

Both of Itachi’s wrists are unmarked, unblemished. Most of the people his age have gotten their soulmarks by now, but Mother says not to worry too much. “Soulmarks are strange,” she mutters ruefully, swinging her legs idly over the side of the pier. “They’ll appear randomly, seemingly without cause or warning.”

 

They’re sitting by the lake outside their house, and the setting sun paints the water into brilliant hues of gold and auburn and crimson and Itachi inhales slowly, wondering if he can suspend this moment into an eternity. His mother continues. “Having a soulmate doesn’t necessarily mean having a romantic partner, either. It can be a friend, maybe even an enemy.” Her toes brush the water, sending the glassy surface of the lake into disarray. “Being soulbonded simply means understanding someone in a way no other can.”

 

Itachi intently watches the gold and auburn and crimson rush together in a cacophony of iridescence, and the sound of buzzing cicadas seems to intensify the longer he goes without blinking. “I’m not sure I need a soulmate,” he confesses, and perhaps a year ago he might have thought such a statement was merely a deflection, just another way to combat the pain of not having one to begin with.

 

But he thinks of his new position in ANBU, of it almost being summer ( his favorite season, because it’s so bright and full of life and even father seems happier ), of Sasuke. Sasuke, who hugs Itachi’s legs when he walks through the door, who grins so widely whenever he sees the markings on his right wrist.

 

Look, ‘tachi, he’d yell, look at the markings! What do you think it’ll say?

 

Mother seems to understand, and her eyes soften. She wraps an arm around his shoulders tenderly, pulling him against the side of her body. “Oh, Itachi,” she breathes, and perhaps his vision blurs, but he thinks it’s just the lake shifting faster against the wind.

 

Thirteen

 

He watches the life fade from his parents’ eyes, watches it evaporate into the stale, blood-scented air with little ceremony. Watches as his mother gives him one last smile, a sad thing that ends just as quickly. The words on their wrists shift from a heady black to an almost imperceptible gray. He gazes at the markings dazedly.

 

And as he’s leaving Konoha, Sasuke hot on his heels, he glances one last look over his shoulder and catches sight of his younger brother’s right wrist.

 

For some reason, fate chose tonight of all nights for Sasuke’s soulmark to fully form, and in the dim light of the full moon Itachi is just barely able to make out part of the last word: ...ways .

 

But then Sasuke’s throwing kunai at him, and he can’t look at the soulmark any longer. His own eyes are starting to water too, so it’d be no use to try.

 

Sasuke collapses to the ground just a few moments later, small form wracked with such physical and emotional grief that Itachi feels his own heart starting to splinter. Suddenly, he doesn’t think he can pretend any longer, and it’s hard to breathe.

 

Sasuke , he thinks, and the world is beginning to spin and his knees are starting to shake and all he can hear is his father’s voice from all those years ago, an echo in the cavern of his mind.

 

If it comes between the clan and your soulmate, you must always choose the former.

 

He doesn’t even have a soulmate, and now he doesn’t even have a clan. Choosing between the two is no longer an option, so why does it feel like he’s already made a decision?

 

Sixteen

 

He watches Sasuke leave the Academy from a distant rooftop, and he pulls his legs against his chest and rests his chin on his knees.

 

His younger brother walks home alone. Stares at the ground as he walks. Shoves his hands into his pockets, and barely kicks up dirt with each footstep.

 

If Sasuke were to look up, he’d only see a red tile rooftop. Itachi’s not careless enough to let anyone sense or see him, but he feels Sasuke’s name rising in his throat, and almost forgets that his outstretched left arm is still bare.

 

Eighteen

 

Soulmarks were never really a matter of importance to Itachi when he joined the Akatsuki, but all of that changes after he and Kisame have captured the four-tails.

 

They’re stuck in an abandoned barn of some backwater village at the Land of Fire’s border, waiting for a particularly nasty storm to pass. The barn doors whip back and forth in the wind wildly, creaking as they turn. Kisame shucks off the heavy material of his Akatsuki cloak, letting the wet fabric fall to the dirt with little ceremony, and that’s when Itachi notices the markings.

 

Faded soulmarkings on Kisame's right wrist.

 

Perhaps he noticed Itachi looking at his wrist, or perhaps he was feeling sentimental (Itachi almost snorts at the thought), but whatever the reason, Kisame decides to speak up.

 

“I killed him,” Kisame says simply, and Itachi blinks in surprise from where he sits on the dirt ground. Not at the fact that Kisame killed his soulmate ( of course he did ), but at the tinge of regret in his voice.

 

You don’t have to do this.

 

The words gleam under the light of the small fire they’ve made. After a quiet moment, Itachi clears his throat. “Why is it on your right wrist?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Itachi lifts his gaze from Kisame’s wrist and to the heart of the fire. “There was only one person in Konoha with markings on their right wrist.”

 

Kisame cocks his head to the side, then falls onto his back in exhaustion. The fight with the jinchuriki must have been more draining than he let on. “I suppose it is rare.” He closes his eyes. “It means that those are going to be the last words you hear from the one you’re bonded with, not the first.”

 

Thunder cracks outside, and the rain starts to pour even harder. Water leaks through the smattering of holes in the barn ceiling, and one drop weaves its way through and onto Itachi’s cheek.

 

He thinks of Sasuke, and Sasuke’s right wrist, and some pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, one after another after another. But he coughs haggardly into his palm, which comes away sticky and crimson, and closes his eyes.

 

Death

 

Even at the end of all things, he wonders why his wrist remains bare. This is the one piece that won’t fall into place, the one thing that – even after all these years – he still can’t comprehend.

 

Being soulbonded simply means understanding someone in a way no other can. His mother’s words come back to him with sudden clarity, even as his heartbeat is fading in his ears, and he wonders if this really means no one understood him, not in the way that mattered.

 

It wouldn’t be a surprise, and he thinks as much when he meets eyes with Sasuke. Itachi smiles, opens his mouth, is about to speak–

 

Sasuke is looking at him in a way that’s so heartbreakingly terrified, so awfully confused, and then Sasuke’s right wrist is burning, and then Itachi is falling to his knees, and then Itachi is dead.

 

Life

 

Once Kabuto’s reanimation jutsu is reversed, Itachi feels a strange tug in his stomach, and the world starts to fade to black. He looks over his shoulder ( like all those years ago under a full moon ) to meet eyes with his younger brother.

 

Sasuke, who used to hug his legs when he came home from missions, who used to grin whenever he showed Itachi his half-formed soulmark, who he carried back home after he sprained his ankle. Sasuke, the last person Itachi saw before he died, and the only one he needed to see.

 

Itachi gives his younger brother one last speech as his field of vision begins to narrow, the words spilling from his mouth in a cascade of loss and regret, but most importantly, love.

 

Love. At long last, the final piece of the puzzle is there. He loves his brother, has always loved his brother, even if it meant gaining nothing and losing everything in return. He looks down at the bare skin of his wrists and understands .

 

He presses his forehead against Sasuke’s, his soul straining dangerously against the pull of the afterlife, and reigns in the last of his strength to breathe what he knows will be his final words in this world.

 

I will love you always.

 

And as he fades away, he doesn’t look down at Sasuke’s right wrist. He already knows what will be there.