The locals had warned him about fairy rings and lone trees in the middle of a field. There were multiple sightings and they told him to be wary, especially if he were traveling alone and heard someone calling out to him from the hills.
Little did they know that those were Itachi’s exact destinations.
He laced up his hiking boots and prepared his pack with his sketching tools and watercolors, making sure that his iron dagger was still inside and wrapped in a rag. He tossed the pack next to the cooler with bottles of milk and his water, and took off with his rented truck in the direction of the areas the locals had told him to stay clear from.
He knew it could take all day and possibly longer before he saw anything. It wasn’t always about finding the right locations, but also waiting for the right amount of time.
Walking through the fields, Itachi inspected every inch for evidence, little signs that the fae had made the land he was investigating their home.
His family had always had the gift of sight. It was passed on through the generations and while some of his relations ignored it, others chose to use their ability to see the fae for different purposes.
His great uncle was a hunter. Uchiha Madara traveled the world and brought his trophies back and displayed them in his home.
Itachi’s mother had never been a fan of what her uncle did with his gift of sight. She made sure that all of the young ones—him and his younger brother and his cousins Izumi and Shisui—stayed clear of his house. At least she had tried. Itachi wasn’t always the best at doing what his parents wanted.
The specimens were grotesque. Madara didn’t care to preserve them for anything other than proof they existed and their shriveled forms were a horrible sight.
Madara’s horrifying trophies were one of the reasons Itachi painted faeries. He could capture the beauty in the fantastic creatures of the unseen world without having to kill any of them and display their corpses.
His uncle had scoffed at his work, called him a weak, pacifist fool. Madara had told him to never compare his feats to Itachi’s pretty pictures.
And every time Madara turns his nose up at his art, Itachi reminds him that his younger brother, Sasuke, only needed his pretty face to capture a tree folk.
It would be so easy to stalk and kill. There is danger—much more danger—in sitting for hours sketching and painting, leaving himself vulnerable to the whims of the fae.
But that doesn’t stop Itachi from parking his rented truck and straying from the hiking paths, armed only with pencils, watercolors, and an iron dagger.
Some creatures are easier than others. Sprites gathered high in tree branches, hidden as insects and flowers. Their presence was a sure sign of faerie activity. Sprites were common in many parts of the world, but Itachi took care to sketch and paint the European variants.
He gifts his subjects with thimbles of milk and drops of honey. They eye him warily, taking the treats without turning their backs on him. As patient and respectful as he is, Itachi is still human.
Making his way into the open fields of rolling grass, he treads carefully not wanting to step on any stray sods and find himself disoriented and losing his way.
Perching on a small boulder, Itachi inhales, the crisp air fills his lungs and brings a calm he could only find in such a remote area away from the bustling of humans. It is quiet and it is peaceful.
It is quiet and it is peaceful except for the rustling of something pawing through his pack.
Turning slowly, Itachi sets down his paints and tucks his iron dagger under his thigh so that it is within reach but hidden so that the possibly fae intruder does not see the threat.
Shocking and vivid are the first set of adjectives that comes to mind when he sees the brilliant red hair of the creature unwrapping his wagon wheel cookies.
Diminutive in size, granting it almost a child’s appearance, the creature before him is without a doubt a fae.
Paying him no mind, the fairy continues to dig through his pack in search of the snacks that he had packed for himself. It squints its eyes and sniffs delicately with its button nose, selecting the sweetest treats. When it finds something exciting, its wings flutter rapidly.
“I have milk and honey,” Itachi offers softly, in English. If the fairy was comfortable enough to dig through his belongings in search of human food, it likely had experience dealing with humans and had possibly learned the local tongue. “Unfortunately, the milk is chilled.”
In a panic, the fairy grabs his entire backpack but falls backwards down the hill, tumbling in the grass. The sight is too comical and Itachi exhales a laugh through his nose. The action does not escape the fairy’s notice and it sits up, face burning a shade of red as bright as its hair as it chirps at him and raises its little fists at him.
“I’m sorry,” Itachi apologizes, making no move to assist. One wrong move and the fairy could react badly. The fae are prideful creatures and he had made the mistake of laughing at a fairy’s misfortune.
“You are not!” The fairy’s voice is shrill. If it were in a better mood, perhaps its voice would be high and clear like bells. In its outrage its voice is sharp and feels like needles prodding at his ears.
The fairy continues to narrow its eyes and feel at the ground for the dropped items. Just moments ago it was smelling his snacks to identify them and was now struggling to locate everything it dropped.
The fairy is blind.
Quickly, Itachi snatches up all of the snacks while he has the advantage of sight. The fairy spit curses at him in English and something foreign before ultimately pounding its little fists against the dirt, tears welling at the corners of its eyes.
Taking a wagon wheel cookie out of its packaging, Itachi holds it out to her. “How about a trade?”
Cocking its head to the side, the fairy narrows her eyes at him. The suspicion is there but a shake of the cookie has it nodding its head enthusiastically.
Nibbling on chocolate, the fairy sat on one of the rocks Itachi had perched on before their encounter. She didn’t sit perfectly still, but Itach is used to sketching creatures in their natural states.
“You have unusual coloring for a fairy.”
The bright red hair isn’t a color he is used to finding in fae that reside in the fields and forests. Most fairies have coloring that allows them to hide among the foliage. Despite being part of the unseen world, there were many ways they could become visible.
“I’m special!” The fairy chirps proudly, tossing her hair over her shoulder. Her vermillion eyes glitter with hidden danger, daring him to refute her claim.
“Yes, you are.”
Faeries are proud creatures. Itachi has learned a lot from studying them while they are alive to know that. It is how his great uncle Madara had ended up getting his older cousin Obito injured during a hunt for an ogre. He hadn’t taken any precautionary steps, only treating the ogre as a beast instead of the intelligent creature it was. Obito is forever scarred from having saved their great uncle.
Itachi chooses to avoid direct mentions of the color of her hair. A protective color, but a color hated by faeries, it was odd to see the strands of red, but it was probably the reason why he had found this particular fairy on her own.
Blind as she may be, Itachi isn’t foolish enough to drop his guard. He had already taken the precaution to not have anything on his person that will give away his name, he always carries salt with him and a binding of twigs from an ash, an oak, and a thorn tree, and his iron dagger is always at hand.
He had made a mistake when he replaced his satchel. His old one had iron clasps to make sure that faeries could not mess with his belongings but he had no time to find a proper replacement before his trip. It was the mistake that led the fairy in front of him into trying to steal from him.
The thievery has Itachi wondering if he is dealing with a pixie, but the fairy in front of him is too tall to be one, even if her height is still that of a human child. The only fact he has obtained is that the fairy is female and it was obtained from him asking how old the fairy is and her responding to him with, “you never ask a woman her age.”
Itachi is in the middle of painting when his glasses are snatched right off of his face.
“Hey!” Food is one thing, but he needs his glasses to see.
The fairy exclaims in her unknown language, holding his glasses to her face so that they don’t slip off. She twirls around looking at everything, cooing in awe. Abruptly she marches up to him and looks him over with wide, red eyes full of wonder.
“Are all of the mundane as pretty as you?” She is so close that he can smell the floral scents wafting from her body. The air is crisp but there are no flowers in the field, none that would carry the scent that she does.
Itachi coughs into his hand, not expecting the compliment in the form of a question from a fairy, especially one that had all of the characteristics of what children believe a fairy should look like.
His family is never far from his thoughts, and he thinks about his cousin Izumi and his mother and especially of his younger brother Sasuke and a soft smile settles on his face.
“There are humans that are much prettier.”
“Impossible!” The fairy huffs before plopping another cookie in her mouth.
“Very possible. Now I need my glasses back in order to finish this.”
Silence settles between them. His vision is as murky as water spilling across his wet paintings, but he can sense the fairy staring at him.
Itachi sighs, his face falling into his hand. He can feel the coolness of the paint on his fingers smearing on his forehead. He can threaten her with his dagger, but he doesn’t want to risk wandering lost and blind if the fairy turns the tables on him now that she can see properly.
“If you give me back my glasses, I’ll bring you more snacks when I come back to this field in a few days.”
“As if I could believe that.” The fairy snorts, clucking her tongue. “But that could make great collateral.”
She taps his sketchbook, taking care not to run her fingers on the still drying watercolors.
“I’ll hold on to the image of me you planned to steal away.”
Itachi should have known better. Any gifts from faeries are only on loan. Gifts are not to keep but to borrow, and this fairy views his painting as thievery.
“Two days.” Itachi holds up two fingers. “Two rises of the sun and I will be back here a couple of hours after the sun passes its highest point.”
The sound of tearing paper fills the field and then his glasses are placed in his palm.
Two days later, Itachi arrives at the same field, bag loaded with treats. The fairy is waiting for him, perched on the same rocks he had been sitting on when they had met days before. She’s still alone, nothing but grass and rocks surround her—her hair a beacon in a world of green.
He finds it strange that she sits there waiting for him. Although he doesn’t know her exact species, she resembles more of those that live in colonies. None of her traits point that she should be a solitary creature, but the signs are all there.
Itachi has not seen another fairy nor has he seen the rings they stamp into the grass from their dancing. It’s only her, blind and alone with hair of a damning red.
“Can I keep it?” She asks in lieu of a greeting. Her fingers lightly trace her image on the paper.
“Here.” Itachi pulls out a thermos from his satchel. “Warm milk with honey.”
He settles on the rock below her perch and pulls out all of the treats he had bought for her. She makes no move for the sweets, clutching the paper to her chest.
“How about a trade?” Itachi offers, pulling out his sketchbook. “You can keep that one, if you let me paint you again.”
Without a word, the fairy nods her head vigorously and Itachi’s pencil scratches against the stiff paper of his multimedia sketchbook.
He names her Karin in his mind and that’s when he realizes he’s in trouble.
He names her for the floral perfume that follows her as she twirls around him and asks him about everything but his name.
Why does he paint?
How can he see her without a stone with a natural hole?
What land is he from that gives him his accent?
Karin asks as many questions as she answers even if Itachi never voices them out loud.
She tells him of the humans she comes across when they hike. None of them were able to see her and it was always funny to see them circle around in confusion as they looked for their missing items.
He tells her about all of the faeries he has come across and how he has painted them all. He tells her how a tree spirit had fallen in love with his younger brother.
Faeries love the tree folk and this is her favorite story. Karin demands more details, wanting to soak up everything about the tree person that Itachi calls family.
Tree folk are loved by all of the faeries and they love them in return. They allow them to make homes in their territories and to frolic in their branches and in the shade of their leaves.
There are no trees in this field and Karin gazes at the tree line of the forest forlornly.
An unsettling thought passes through his mind as he notices her wistful smile when he tells her of how Sasuke painstakingly uprooted a cherry blossom tree and drove it by truck to replant it in their family’s courtyard.
If a tree person can fall in love with a human, she can love a red haired fairy just as easily.
“Your brother is lucky.”
“He’s very lucky,” Itachi agrees. “If you cut down any part of a tree in which a spirit resides in, you will be cursed. Even if the spirit loves you.”
“He must have worked really slowly to ensure no damage.”
“It took him days. He says it was worth it.” Itachi opens up a baggie of strawberries and hands them to her. “Now he can be with his Sakura. It was foolish, but what can we expect of twenty year olds who believe they’re in love?”
“It must be nice,” Karin falls back and lies on the grass, “to know your own age.”
“You do not?”
“I don’t even know my name.” She stretches and pulls at the grass beneath her. “It’s been so long since I had any need for it.”
Names are powerful things. Any of the unseen world could use a name to hurt or make a human do their bidding. But a name is an identifier and can also give a sense of belonging.
Uchiha means more than a fan. It means that he is part of a greater whole and that there are people who love him.
“I call you Karin in my thoughts.”
“Oh?” Karin rolls over and cradles her chin in her hands, lashes fluttering at him. “You think of me, human?”
Itachi exhales slowly, resisting the childish urge to roll his eyes at her. Taking out his field notebook, he turns to a blank page and writes out the characters for her name:
“This here,” he taps on the first character, “means fragrance. And it suits you. Now here is your name using the alphabet for the language of this region.”
Nearly, he scratches out the English letters for her name. He is always more graceful with kanji, but he takes care to write clear and bold letters for her.
Karin fixes him with a blank stare and bluntly tells him, “I have no idea what that says.”
Itachi sighs, realizing the mistake he has made. She speaks English because she lives in a common hiking destination and has picked it up from the travelers. It speaks of her intelligence that she was able to learn the language at all.
“But I like how it sounds.” Karin clears her throat and closes her eyes. “Karin. I like the way it makes your tongue hit the roof of your mouth. Like it must be felt, forces your body to acknowledge it as it passes through it. It’s a good name.”
The sun is threatening to lower and Itachi has to get back to his rental truck before it gets dark. He hurries to pack all of his belongings and the father the trash from the eaten snacks.
“Will you come back again?” Karin’s voice isn’t the sharp needles of her anger or the tinkling of bells in her joy. It is lost and alone in the breeze, disappearing into nothingness on its final note.
Itachi only has so many days on his trip before he is expected to return back to Japan. When he is gone there will only be hikers to rob and another name that will fade without use.
But hauling a fairy back home can’t be any more difficult than uprooting a tree.
Swapping out his glasses for his spare—the old frames that had gone out of fashion but he carries with him just in case—he ducks down into a squat and slips on his newer frames onto Karin’s face.
“Of course I’ll be back. You’re mine now, aren’t you?”
The glasses slip as Karin’s thin brows rise up in shock.
“I have your name now. And it’s mine.” Itachi watches as realization dawns in Karin’s face. She flips through confusion and anger but ultimately settles on a triumphant grin.
“And now so am I.”
Itachi exhales a laugh through his nose as she bounces to her feet, glasses askew, and hooks her arm around his.
“And so are you.”
He almost couldn’t wait to see the look on his great uncle’s face when he brought a living fairy home.