0. Suki Uchiha wakes to the sound of screaming cicadas with tear tracks on her face. Neither is anything she’s not used to.
Suki struggles out of her bedroll and takes a broad look around the tent. In its wide expanse there’s only her and her nurse, Hotsu, sleeping on her left side with her back to the front flaps. Suki hears that the daughters of daimyō can sneak away from their sleeping nurses in the middle of the night and slip out of their estates to go have all sorts of adventures. She knows the second she moves out of her bedroll Hotsu will be on her feet, kunai in hand and Sharingan spinning. Suki just shakes her awake.
Hotsu blinks, bleary-eyed, and yawns, "Young Mistress, what is it? You should be sleeping."
One of the first lessons Suki learned in her seven years was how to speak when all she wants is to sob; "I would like to go see my father, please."
Hotsu opens her mouth to give her the usual speech, that her father is a very busy man and whatever it is can wait until morning, but her gaze hangs on Suki’s quivering lip and the words catch in her throat.
Instead, she sighs, "Very well then, Young Mistress. Hold just a moment."
Hotsu extricates herself from her bedroll and ambles over to the front flap. She lifts it and pokes her head outside, speaking a few hushed whispers before drawing back and ushering Suki over. Hotsu parts the tent flaps for Suki to stumble through. Her uncle Izuna is waiting just outside, as he always does– No man of the Uchiha Clan is ever assigned to guard his own wife and children.
Izuna smiles and asks, "Would you like me to carry you, Suki?"
Suki finds it in herself to pout; "I– I-I’m too old for that, Uncle."
Izuna laughs and offers his hand; "I see, do forgive my impertinence then, Lady Uchiha. Come, allow me to avenge this slight by guiding you to your father."
Suki hides a hiccuping giggle behind her sleeve and gives Izuna her other hand. He dips low in a courtly bow before leading her towards the heart of the Uchiha Compound.
Suki has been told that once upon a time the Uchiha Compound had been a fortress at the top of a mountain, given life by the spring that birthed the Naka River. The walls had been glittering white, the roof tiles deep blue, and the clan crest painted in brilliant red wherever there was room. The forest had hidden them and the mountain had protected them. War had been far away, there. Suki cannot imagine that life. She was born in a forward operating camp. All she has ever known is a life in constant motion, their caravan making pilgrimage from battle to battle in the Naka River Valley. In seven years she’s lived in thrice as many places, leaving by day to find the next battle or by night with enemies dogging their steps.
They say in seven more years she will marry a daimyō’s son to secure a contract, or a clan head’s son to secure an alliance. Suki thinks she would prefer the daimyō’s son. Perhaps living within his estate will bring her closer to what their home on the mountain might have been like.
To eyes without Sharingan, all the Uchiha tents look the same. Now that Suki has awoken hers, she can see what makes her father’s grander than the rest. In iridescent red a dragon twists and whirls along the heavy canvas, scales glittering in the torchlight. Izuna catches her gawking from the corner of his eye. He smiles, but the expression is dulled by a wash of sorrow. Many Uchiha smiles are.
Izuna lifts the tent’s front flap and chuckles, "Venerable Lord Uchiha, I come to you as escort for one of our clansmen. She has come with an urgent petition that must be heard at once."
Her father, lit by low candlelight, looks up from the maps splayed out in front of him. With firelight playing through his long dark hair and a stern frown darkening his features, for a moment Suki sees only Lord Madara Uchiha, Dragon of the South and one of the most fearsome shinobi alive. Suki cannot keep from sucking a sharp breath in through her teeth. His eyes, keen as a falcon’s, dart to the sound and pick her out of the darkness. The tension drains from his shoulders and his frown washes away, replaced by the barest shadow of a smile. In the time it takes for a hummingbird to flap it’s wings he is her father again.
He nods to Izuna; "Thank you. You are dismissed."
Izuna bows low and takes his leave. There is a brief pause where father and daughter stare at each other across a map of the river valley, neither sure who ought to speak first. Her father makes the first move and wordlessly pats the cushion at his side. Suki forgets that she is a daughter of the Uchiha, the daughter of a ninja, and scrambles ungracefully around to throw herself against her father’s side and bury her face in his robes. Her father’s arm comes around to tuck her in closer, sheltering her like a hen hides her chicks beneath her feathers.
He murmurs, voice rich and dark like the night sky, "Which raid did you dream of?"
Her voice is thick and high and reedy as she chokes out, "T-the last– The one wh– When M-mother–!"
Suki’s words are torn to pieces by sharp sobs that make her whole body convulse.
She remembers her mother in all her shades. She remembers Mother in bright sunlight, gathering flowers and braiding them into her hair, tucking one behind Father’s ear and winning a warm smile and a kiss to her temple in return.
She remembers Mother’s eyes burning with the Sharingan as she grabs an assassin by the collar, forces him to the ground, and thrusts a single senbon into his neck to kill him quickly and painlessly.
She remembers Mother through a hole in the physician’s tent, sagging against Father, whispering, "I can’t do it again, Madara, I can’t, I can’t lose another baby, not like this or on the battlefield or–" and Father drawing her closer as he murmurs, "So you won’t, my love. We did what we could. No more."
She remembers what the inside of Mother’s chest looked like as the white-haired Senju in blue armor carved her open with a blade of water, the blood black like oil in the light from the burning tents; The Senju had turned his gaze toward Suki, but Mother’s last act in this world had been to spit blood directly into his eye, making him flinch right into a bevy of shuriken from Izuna.
She remembers her mother’s corpse growing more and more distant as Izuna threw her over his shoulder and carried her away, remembers her corpse waiting every time she closed her eyes, every time she slept.
Her father’s hand cards through her hair, his voice bringing her home to the present; "You miss her."
Suki gasps, "I don't k-know what I–! What do I do without her?"
Suki looks up to see her father’s eyes staring off, past the tent, past the river valley, past everything; "I’ve been wondering that myself. I don’t know if that’s a question that actually has an answer. For now… For now, we do as we have always done. We do unto the Senju as they have done unto us."
Suki nuzzles closer to her father, eyes resting on the map without reading it. No matter how many times they do unto the Senju as the Senju have done to them, it never seems to break through their armor and pierce the soft underbelly. They lay waste to the Senju on the battlefield, steal their clients, raze their camps, and they always come back to cut down yet more brothers and mothers and friends, never satisfied with the pain they’ve already caused.
Suki grasps a tight handful of her father’s haori and murmurs, "Do the Senju hate us because we’re cursed?"
Her father had been drafting some sort of missive with his other hand, but it immediately stills and he fixes her with a startled look; "Cursed?"
Suki shrinks away from her father’s gaze; "They… I’ve heard smallfolk say we’re cursed. That we have a Curse of Hatred, where our love turns to hate when we lose the people we care for, and we lose ourselves trying to prove that we’re better, and–"
"Not a word of that is true."
Suki’s eyes leap back to her father’s face. His gaze is hard, but not cruel. He looks as he does when he gives speeches to inspire the men, when he barters with daimyō who will easily cave at the sight of Sharingan, when he rides off to a battle he knows he can win.
He continues, "There is no curse upon our blood. The Curse of Hatred is a vile piece of slander the Senju spit about us to any who will listen. They’re blind to their own faults, to the blood they’ve shed in the name of revenge. They would rather paint us as monsters than admit to being anything less than wise sages who are above such base things as caring when those they love are slain. Each of them, to a man, hypocrites."
Her meets her eyes; "You have heard of the Curse of Hatred. Have you also heard of their Will of Fire?"
Suki nods, grip tightening on her father’s robes. All the smallfolk are abuzz about the Will of Fire, obsessed with the Senju’s pretty dream. She hears it being whispered around every street corner, this utopia where every man forgets clan and family and acts as just one root holding up a tree so large it breaches the clouds. It’s inescapable.
Father strokes her hair and his voice drifts into the tone he uses when telling her a story; "My grandfather fought the head of the Senju Clan when they were young men. He chased him through the clan compound and all the way to his home. As the clan head’s defeat drew nearer, Grandfather sent him tearing through the wall of his tent, and when he followed, he saw the man’s wife and infant son huddled in a corner. He thought of his own wife, miles away. He thought of my father, still so young. He offered the head of the Senju Clan a simple set of terms– leave, and the Uchiha Clan would not follow. Leave, and he could see his son grow up."
Father’s hand stills on the top of her head. He shuts his eyes. He takes a deep breath, in through his nose, out through his mouth. Suki waits.
His voice is brimming with sorrow and shaking with rage as he continues, "His wife threw a kunai into her husband’s throat. She drew another and drove it into the heart of her wailing son. My grandfather asked her why. She had answered, 'Better he die for the clan than live for us'. The Senju came upon the scene and did not see my grandfather. They saw their clan’s leader and his heir martyred, his wife mad with grief. The Senju were galvanized by her pretty lie instead of shaken by the truth. They brought their whole clan down upon our compound and cut us down by half."
Tears run down Suki’s face as she imagines the poor baby, screaming his little throat raw. He must have been so frightened. He must have been clinging so tight to his mother’s breast, secure in the knowledge that at least this was safe. At least she would protect him. What could he have thought as the knife came down? Could he have thought anything at all?
Father draws her onto his lap and holds her close. He presses his lips into her hair. She buries her face into his chest and inhales the scent of smoke. Father’s love is warm and steady, like a heavy quilt in Winter.
She feels the rumble of his deep voice as he murmurs, "The Senju speak of fire, but they only see its light, its warmth. They don’t touch it, shape it, breathe it as we do. The only will fire has is the will to consume whatever it touches. Senju throw their lives away, abandon those they are to protect, throw any body– able or not– onto the front lines, recklessly sacrificing pieces to save the whole. The Will of Fire asks you to set yourself aflame to keep others warm."
Suki would hold onto those words, even after the alliance, the founding of the village, her father’s defection, and her clan’s disavowal of him in favor of licking Hashirama’s boots.
She would spit them at her husband through grit teeth when he would return from meetings of the clans with his tail between his legs, having conceded yet more to the Senju.
She would whisper them to Fugaku when he was small and still needed to cry away the nightmares on her lap. She would mutter them to Fugaku again when he was not quite small, not quite tall, and it fell to her to teach him what it truly took to be the head of the Uchiha Clan. She would state them solidly and without flinching when Fugaku was a grown man and expressed doubts about the coup d’état.
She would spin them to little Itachi and Sasuke as she told them stories from a time not as long ago as they would like to hope, when the Tailed Beasts roamed free and all was anarchy.
And they would be the last words that passed through her mind as Itachi came for her on that blood-soaked night, tears streaking down his face as the Will of Fire burned him alive.