Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters.

Note: Written as a gift fic for megyal as part of the Naruto Fic Festival 2014.


Another explosion rocked the porch they sat on, causing Sasuke's eyes to fly open. He stared around fearfully for a few seconds, then screwed up his face in the way Itachi knew meant he was about to start wailing. "Shh, shh," he soothed, bouncing his baby brother in his arms. "It's okay, Sasuke. I'm right here."

The words drew Sasuke's attention, and his face smoothed out as he looked up at Itachi's gentle smile.

Behind the mask of calm he was projecting to the infant Uchiha, Itachi's heart was pounding. His parents, along with most of the other adults in his clan, were out there somewhere, among the clouds of smoke and falling trees. He couldn't see the Kyuubi from here, but he could hear its periodic roars, and its unfathomable chakra raised the fine hairs on his arms. What if Mikoto, Fugaku, and the others failed to stop the monster? The Uchiha compound was on the opposite side of the village from where the Kyuubi had appeared, but if it couldn't be driven off or killed, it would surely rampage throughout Konoha. No one would be safe then-not even the baby gazing up at him with absolute trust. And it wasn't just Mikoto and Fugaku who were in peril beyond the compound walls.

Shisui hadn't yet graduated from the Academy, but he was already demonstrating a talent that astonished his teachers. He honed that talent with a work ethic to rival Maito Gai's, and tonight, like many evenings, he had been training at a field near the Academy. Itachi's eyes were fixed on the street that went by his house, hoping to see Shisui's swift figure passing by. But minutes and hours passed, and there was no sign of him. His arms tightened around Sasuke, who whimpered in discomfort.

"I'm sorry, Sasuke." Itachi rocked his brother. "Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine."

He almost thought he could see the ebony eyes narrow. Are you trying to convince me, they seemed to be saying, or yourself?

The vibration in his bones and teeth from the massive bijuu's chakra stopped. The Kyuubi has been defeated! Itachi's joy was quickly tempered: such a victory wouldn't come without cost, and he had no way to know how much of that would be borne by his family. People began to trickle back, alone or in small groups. Many were leaning on their comrades' shoulders or being carried outright. The eyes of most were focused straight ahead, on home. Those few who glanced to the side and saw him sitting on the porch nodded or gave him reassuring smiles. Itachi returned their gestures in silence until Shisui's father trudged past.

"Is Shisui with you?" He hadn't raised his voice above its customary volume, but in the sudden absence of distant shouting and explosions, it easily carried to the street.

Shisui's father turned, and Itachi saw that his left arm was hanging limp at his side. "No," he said, "I wasn't stationed near the area where he was training. But the Inuzuka were there, and they're fierce fighters. They wouldn't have let anything happen to him." Itachi heard the tightness in the man's voice and knew what it meant. Every Uchiha understood the importance of self-control, and Shisui's father was trying desperately to hold onto his.

A few minutes later, a pair of familiar figures limped into sight. Itachi almost leapt to his feet, but then he remembered his shinobi discipline and stood up in a smooth, unhurried motion. "Tou-san, Kaa-san," he greeted them. "Sasuke is asleep, and there have been no casualties among the civilians of our clan that I know of. How badly are you hurt?"

"My injuries aren't serious," Fugaku said, but the way he leaned on Mikoto's shoulder belied his words. "The important thing is that the Kyuubi is gone. I will go and inform our civilians." He stood up straight, almost hiding a wince of pain, but to Itachi's amazement, Mikoto moved to stand between him and the street.

"You must let me bandage your wounds first."

"Mikoto, I am the clan head-"

"Yes, and you must appear strong when you meet with the others. Many have lost family and friends tonight, and you know as well as I do that some of them will also be afraid that suspicion will fall on us. It will not help morale for them to see you stooped and bleeding."

Itachi had never heard Mikoto speak this way to Fugaku before. Even at his young age, he knew that internal clan politics could be complicated, not to mention the relations between the various clans that made up Konoha's shinobi force. Fugaku carefully weighed each word and action, always attentive to the fact that ninja were skilled at reading motivations and intent from even the smallest gesture. Mikoto, by contrast, had never seemed to care for such things. She had kept the household running, taught Itachi and Sasuke skills like reading and writing that were essential without being related directly to combat, and often hosted gatherings of the clan's women. But was the image of the dutiful wife and mother simply a facade? Was she, in truth, playing the same political game as Fugaku, but in a different arena? He remembered the women he'd seen sitting around the table in their living room, sipping tea or making flower arrangements. They were the wives and mothers of captains in the police force, of merchants who traveled to the civilian capital, of up-and-coming young shinobi. What secrets might they unintentionally reveal, hidden among the fluff of idle gossip?

Fugaku held his wife's gaze with his own for a moment, then nodded and sat down heavily on the porch. Mikoto bustled back and forth between the porch and the house, bringing out first-aid supplies. She wrapped bandages around Fugaku's torso, washed out cuts and taped gauze over them, spread ointment on bruises. Itachi tried to wait patiently through this, but couldn't help shifting from one foot to the other. Fugaku's injuries, while more serious than he'd let on, weren't life-threatening. Itachi knew that his father was in no danger, but there was someone else who still hadn't returned to the compound.

As soon as Mikoto stepped back and Fugaku got to his feet without evident pain, Itachi asked, "Where is Shisui?"

Mikoto's brow furrowed as she took Sasuke from Itachi's arms. "He hasn't come back yet?"

Itachi shook his head. The worry that had been churning in the pit of his stomach all evening had started to well up into panic, but he tamped it down. Ninja saying #42: Panic will do no good to you or your allies, only to your enemies. "No, and his father hasn't seen him."

"He probably went to one of the emergency shelters," Fugaku said.

Itachi recalled the layout of the village and shook his head. "Taking the path from his training ground to either of the shelters would have brought him too close to the fighting. If he did go that way..." ...He wouldn't have made it.

He remembered poring over Academy homework with Shisui, watching Shisui spend endless hours trying to perfect his Shunshin no Jutsu, standing beside Shisui at the edge of the dock and competing to see who could produce the bigger Gokakyu. "I'm going to go find him."

"Itachi, I know Shisui-kun is your friend, but the best thing you can do right now is to wait here with your mother and brother. If Shisui-kun isn't hurt, he'll make his way back here on his own. If he is, the medic-nin will be able to help him more than you can." Fugaku's voice was firm but not sharp, and Itachi recognized his words as good, practical advice.

But he had also received equally good advice from one of his squadmates. "A ninja who abandons his friends is worse than trash." "I'm going to go find him," he repeated, leaping onto the fence that surrounded his backyard.

"Itachi!" Now Fugaku's voice was sharp. Mikoto echoed him more quietly, but with the same authoritative tone she'd used when speaking to her husband earlier.

For the first time in his life, Itachi ignored them.

He sprinted through the streets of the Uchiha district, the smell of smoke growing stronger the closer he got to the village proper. Reaching the cloth-draped arch that marked the entrance, he paused in shock.

Itachi had seen death before. He'd been present at the passing of his great-grandmother. He had heard her wheezing breaths slow and then stop, seen her eyes close and her hands go limp atop her thick quilt. And unlike many other shinobi children, it didn't escape him what the kunai and shuriken he threw at wooden training posts could do to human flesh and organs. But he hadn't seen anything like this.

Shops and houses had collapsed, wooden planks sticking up like matchsticks and stones scattered about like blocks left on the floor by a lazy child. Trees had been broken off halfway up their trunks or uprooted entirely. Fountains sprayed water into the air from broken pipes and punctured tanks. Power lines lay snapped and sparking, sending arcs of electricity across the pools of water. As he ran toward the training field where Shisui had been, he began to see people slumped against walls or sprawled on the ground. Some had their eyes closed and almost looked like they could just be asleep, but others stared blankly up at the sky. The coppery stench of blood began to mix with the smell of smoke.

The sight that greeted him at the training field made his heart sink. Furrows had been gouged into the earth, and the surrounding trees were on fire. The bodies of both men and dogs lay on the ground. Eyes watering from the smoke, Itachi ran from one to the other. One or two were alive, and he quickly bandaged the worst of their wounds. None were Shisui.

A shout from within the burning copse of trees caught his attention. "Go! Bring a medic here right now!" a woman was yelling.

Itachi ran toward the voice, and was almost knocked over by Inuzuka Tsume's companion, Kuromaru. The hound's gray-and-white fur was matted with gore, and one of his eyes was gone. "Itachi-kun," he rasped. "Someone's been trapped in there. Tsume's trying to get him free, but she could use some help."

"Is it Shisui?" He was almost afraid to hear Kuromaru's answer. If it was Shisui, that meant he was still alive...but in dire straits.

"I don't know his name, but he's one of yours. Now stop yapping and go help!"

"Right!" Itachi ran, following the trail of Kuromaru's footprints.

The flames had almost engulfed the part of the grove where Tsume knelt beside the ruins of a storage shed. She was working on one corner of the rubble, flinging aside planks and girders that Itachi thought his father would have had trouble lifting.

Tsume looked up, but only for a second, and then went back to clearing debris. "Help me out here: there's someone trapped under this mess, and we've gotta get him out before the fire closes in." Sweat was pouring down her face, smearing the clan markings on her cheeks.

Itachi dashed to her side, and looked down to see a face peering out from a hole in the wreckage. He recognized the dark eyes and curly hair right away. "Shisui!"

Shisui gave him a weak smile. "Hey, Itachi. Shouldn't you be looking after Sasuke-kun?"

"Sasuke's fine. How bad are your injuries?"

"Couple of ribs broken, maybe my left leg too."

He'll need help to walk. Itachi looked up at the wall of flame, gauging its distance and rate of spread. Tsume-san won't have time to get Shisui free and out to safety before it reaches us. My aid would speed the process somewhat, but my physical strength isn't on par with hers. He noticed a large pool of water between the remains of the shed and the fire, along with broken fragments of the tank that had once held it. There may be something I can do that would be more useful. "I will buy you more time," he told Tsume, and laid his hands against the water. Suiton: Suijinheki!

The water rose up into a wall that Itachi maneuvered to shield them from the flames. He remembered Mikoto handing him a piece of paper that felt tingly when laid against his fingers. It was chakra paper, she had explained, and would tell him what elements he had a natural affinity for. Fire and water were an unusual combination, but he was glad of the contradiction now.

The inferno closed in, licking at the other side of the water wall. A hissing like a thousand snakes filled Itachi's ears as the protective water began to evaporate. Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw Tsume reaching in through the gap she'd made in the rubble, trying to pull Shisui out. Just a little more time...

He remembered from his Academy lessons that it was always easier to work with existing material than to generate a new substrate for a jutsu. It was easier to make a water wall from pre-existing water, for example, than to bring one into being from nothing. Shouldn't the same principle adhere to fire? Could he push the fire back by shaping it with jutsu? He gathered up the fire-natured chakra within himself and reached out, trying to connect to the fire in front of him.

His face was hot and stinging, and the smoke made him cough. But Itachi persisted, gathering as much of the flame as he could into a sphere. Then he pushed, not with his hands, but with his chakra, and the ball of fire sped away from him...and, more importantly, away from Tsume and Shisui.

He repeated the process over and over, forming pieces of the fire into Gokakyu-like spheres and propelling them away. With each one, an image of Shisui rose to the surface of his mind.

"Hey there! My name's Shisui, what's yours?"

"Hah! See that? I finally mastered the Gokakyu no Jutsu!"

"Hey, today's your birthday, right? Here, I bought you some mochi."

Itachi's eyes narrowed, the red glow of the fire reflected in them. Reaching deep within himself, he gathered together the last dregs of his chakra and wrapped it around one final section of the wall of fire. The chakra closed in like a net, encasing the flames. Another picture wavered before him now, of Shisui falling backwards into an endless darkness, one hand reaching out toward him in a vague entreaty. No! Never! The fiery orb sped away through the trees, faster and farther than any of the others.

"I've got him! Itachi-kun, I've got him!"

Itachi spun around, then swayed as the world spun too. Bending over, he put his hands on his knees and took deep breaths until his vision steadied. Tsume was lifting Shisui out of the ruins of the storage shed. He had one arm pressed tightly against his side, and was leaning heavily on Tusme so he could keep his left foot raised off the ground.

"Let me," Itachi said, slipping his own shoulder under Shisui's arm.

Shisui was covered in dust that made his jet-black hair look like an old man's gray. "I don't know, Itachi, I think I might be steadier on my feet than you are."

Itachi couldn't deny his own exhaustion, but somehow it felt vital that he be the one to help Shisui out of the grove. Tsume walked a step behind them, poised to catch them if they stumbled. As they emerged from the broken, leafless trees, they saw Kuromaru loping toward them with Shizune in tow.

While the Sannin's apprentice splinted Shisui's leg, his gaze wandered over the remains of the training field. His eyes were wide with shock, and Itachi realized that he must have been buried under the rubble so quickly that he hadn't had time to grasp the scale of what was happening. He remained silent on their walk back through the village, only turning to Itachi when they were almost at the gate of the Uchiha compound.

"You know, all the teachers at the Academy keep calling me a genius."

Itachi nodded. They said that about him too.

"Do you think it's true? Do you think we can really become as strong as the Sannin, like everyone says?"

"It is certainly true that we have talent far above that of most children our age. But talent means nothing if one doesn't have the determination and work ethic to make the most of it."

"And if we do have those other things? If we really work at it, do you think we could get that strong?"

Itachi thought for a few moments. "Yes."

"Then we can't let anything like this happen again! Tou-san says that strength has to have some purpose, and mine is going to be protecting Konoha's peace."

Itachi thought of the cold necks he'd pressed his fingers against earlier this evening, the steady drip of blood from Kuromaru's empty eye socket. "Then that will be my purpose too. Together, the two of us will stand guard against this," he waved a hand to encompass the devastation, "for as long as we live."

"For as long as we live," Shisui affirmed, and the two friends limped over the threshold.

A/N: Gemini is Itachi's astrological sign; I also thought that the imagery of twins was a good metaphor for the depth of Itachi and Shisui's connection.

When Obito revealed Itachi's true intentions to Sasuke, he said that Itachi had been traumatized by seeing war at a very young age. I thought that the Kyuubi attack might be a good candidate for what that experience was, so I used that idea here.

One of the databooks states that Mikoto holds the rank of jounin, but whenever we see her in canon, she's always doing "housewifey" things. I wanted to suggest the idea in this fic that even if she isn't on active duty anymore, she hasn't lost any of her shinobi cunning or skill at rooting out secrets.