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If you leave a secret in the box just outside their compound's back door, an Akimichi will eat it, written on rice paper.

This has always been the way of things. How the tradition started? There were all sorts of theories. No one examines them too closely, because when compared to the traditions of other villages- which are often far bloodier- feeding secrets to a clan that wears the word 'food' on all their clothing seems relatively normal in comparison.

Crushes, late night liaisons, fears for the future- all of these have been scribbled, on the finest stationary or on scraps of cloth, in expensive ground inks or cheap lead pieces. Regardless of the how or the why, they all wind up the same. They are read, they are rewritten, and they are eaten.

There's a kerfluffle now and again, of course- ANBU insisting on secrecy, the Council demanding answers and the Akimichi providing none. There have been attempts to police drops at the box, to coerce family members into revealing what is written. None of these have worked, and so the world continues to spin and the box continues to hold secrets destined for silent stomachs.

Only a few know when the box is emptied, and only the Akimichi know their contents; and never, not once, has a secret that has been given up for eating been told.

Choza thinks of this as he holds the paper in his hand.

It is midnight, well past; soon the sky will begin to lighten.

It has been three days since the burial, and the note before him is written in a hand he knows. He knows it because the writer in question would sometimes bring him notes from his Clan Patriarch, and would quickly scribe answers in return if Choza was busy or he was looking for an excuse to dally.

(and he did find excuses, didn't he?)

(although if he was being honest, Choza sometimes looked for them, too. The whole clan was too skinny, too focused, too brittle. They could use some guidance in passing the time.)

The rest of the house is sleeping, and the compound beyond it silent. It is only Choza awake now, Choza and the secret before him.

Some secrets left in the box are wordy. They are not so much secrets as they are confessions, a search for absolution. Some are a sentence or two. Few are this short.

Fewer still are this heavy.

They were orders. I obeyed.

Choza runs his fingers over the letters, the callouses of his fingertips scratching at the paper. Ripped from the Patriach's desk, if he was any judge.

Fugaku had few pleasures, but expensive paper had always been one of them.

Who knows?

Choza wonders this, for he does not believe for a second that Itachi would lie; not Itachi, not gentle-eyed, steel spined Itachi, that poor soul.

The Council, he decides, must know. Relations between the Uchiha and the rest of Konoha have been stagnant for years. Everyone has heard the rumors...

Hiruzen. Choza closes his eyes and decides the choice had to have fallen on Hiruzen, silently prays that it was so, for he can believe an order so efficiently violent levied, however reluctantly, by the Hokage.

For if not Hiruzen, then the suggestion had to have been Shikaku; and Choza will believe much of his friend, in their battles together has seen much, but at massacre he draws the line.

They were orders.

Choza thinks of Chouji, sleeping soundly; the same age as Sasuke, who survives.

I obeyed.

Why didn't Fugaku come to him? Even as the thought comes Choza knows it would have changed nothing.

For all their vaunted diplomatic ability, there are some things the Three Clans cannot fix. The rift of the Uchiha is a deep and unforgiving sea, quick to maelstrom, quick to drowning.

They are all drowned now, all but one.

(all but two.)

Choza knows he could report this secret.

He knows he could carry this immediately to the Hokage's office. It would be taken away, burned. They would ask his permission to use the right jutsus, wipe it from his mind like cleaning a slate.

(maybe they wouldn't ask permission, but Choza hopes they know better; the last time they tried the twelfth patriarch destroyed Hokage tower's lower halls.)

Choza thinks of Itachi, too thin, and his gentle, painful smile. He thinks of all the correspondence he ever shared with Fugaku Uchiha, all the words he will never share again. He thinks of Chouji, sleeping soundly, who will wake and have breakfast with his cousins. He thinks of Sasuke, who will wake alone.

Choza sets the paper aside, pulls out the special ink.

He writes carefully on the translucent sheet. Once everything is copied to his satisfaction, he reads it twice and then once more.

The original goes straight into the brazier.

Choza Akimichi carefully folds the secret and wraps his tongue around it.

It dissolves into nothing, stale and bitter and sweet all at once.

The sun comes up. The sky bleeds from black to gray to red to blue.

If you leave a secret in the box just outside their compound's back door, an Akimichi will eat it, written on rice paper.