Title: Uchiha Shisui Stars In: Who Died and Made You Lolita?
Warnings: Canon OC in the way of Shisui, some risque jokes.
Summary: Living the fabulous and well-compensated life of an underused side-character, Uchiha Shisui saw and heard many things. Whether any of them were of much use to him remains open to debate.
Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi.
Uchiha Shisui Stars In: Who Died and Made You Lolita?
"Your brother is spying on us."
Itachi looked up at him briefly, but did not otherwise react in any significant way. Shisui decided that perseverance was of the essence; the thing about Itachi was that you just never knew whether he simply hadn't heard you or was purposely ignoring your presence because he deemed the thing you'd said not economically worth the relative tradeoff of replying.
"I said, your brother is spying on us."
"I heard you the first time," his partner answered, leisurely unwrapping his black bento box. Shisui caught a brief look at the tiny perfect furikake in the shape of the Uchiha emblem, and suppressed a longing sigh at the thought of the hands that had crafted it. Only one person in the entire village, he knew, possessed the skill, the grace, the heavenly poise needed for such meticulous work…
"—he's been following us since we passed by the Academy," Itachi continued, and Shisui had to blink hard a few times to remember what they had been talking about. Oh, right, of course. Itachi's little brother. Who was currently not-hiding in a totally inadequate bush some way further up the riverbank, doing a piss-poor job at concealing himself considering that he was trailing two of Konoha's most capable ANBU, but that was entirely besides the point.
"What the hell do you think he's up to?" Shisui wondered, deliberately not turning to look at their not-so-subtle stalker. "Does he need something? Maybe you should go talk to him. I don't exactly enjoy being stared at while I'm eating my lunch—I get enough of that at work."
Itachi shrugged. "Sasuke knows he may approach me if he wishes to discuss something. I'm sure if we do not pay him any attention, he'll tire of the pursuit and leave." He paused, biting into a (perfectly molded) onigiri, and added, "It might help if you stop fidgeting."
"I am not fidgeting," Shisui snapped, and self-consciously clamped a firm grip on his jittery knee. It wasn't his fault he was in possession of stellar ninja senses that tingled at the slightest hint of disturbance—at least he was half-way competent in the paranoia department, unlike certain so-called tensai he could name. "You—don't talk with your mouth full!"
Itachi didn't deign to grace that with a response, just picked up a piece of sautéed pork with his chopsticks and dangled it fetchingly in Shisui's general direction. For a moment, Shisui considered turning down the peace offering just to be infuriating, but a casual glance at his own vastly inferior fare informed him that such a reaction would be a classic case of cutting your nose off to spite your face. Sighing long-sufferingly, he held out his box and watched as the scrumptious morsel dropped on top of his soggy rice.
Sometimes, Shisui hated that Itachi knew him so well, but the thing about the two of them was that they had known each other basically forever, had grown up together and well into all the super-cliché stereotypes, only nobody had fallen in love with anybody and ruined both their lives or anything. They had been in the same class at the Academy despite a two-year difference in age, because it had been war time and Itachi was a freak like that, and because Shisui had been raised by his father, he had been imbued with a skewed but consistent sense of justice. As such, he had spent his first two weeks at school shoving other kids into walls and whispering dark threats into their ears about whaling on the younger boy before he'd realized that Itachi could and had always taken care of himself. Then he'd been mostly embarrassed.
In spite of this dubious start, however, their friendship had managed to get off the ground, and while Shisui at times found himself driven to the far reaches of his mind, he was also mostly glad, with a healthy side of flattered at the thought that, out of all the people in the world—and Itachi always chose his own—it had been him who had been chosen. For whatever reason, Itachi preferred his company; it was as simple as that, one of the only things about the younger boy that were, and it was good enough for him.
Granted, Itachi was cold and detached on top of being a borderline sociopath who took things too seriously for his own good, but these were things Shisui had already known the first time they had played three hours of killer tag that had somehow ended in mind games and bruised knees as well as egos. Plus, what was that thing they said about liking your friends not in spite of their faults, but because of them?
"Have you received the instructions for the upcoming mission?" Itachi asked, brushing his clothing of stray crumbs and leaning back as a gust of cool breeze swept the riverbank, carrying the bitter-herb scent of an early autumn. Summer had given up the ghost.
"Not yet," Shisui replied, childishly balancing a fallen leaf on the tip of his nose. "I'll have to stop by the Hokage's office later this afternoon." The leaf wobbled, and he gave it a soft burst of breath to keep it in place. "Though I really wish you'd do it this time. It's Friday, you what that means. Mamiya will be on duty. That old bag hates me."
"None of the Hokage's assistants likes you," Itachi corrected mildly. "They think you have no manners. And I can't help you. I'm busy today."
"I do so have manners," Shisui muttered darkly, and on a whim, added without thinking, "You sure seem to have a lot of things going on these days."
"Sasuke's gone," Itachi said brusquely, diverting his eyes in the direction of the upper bank.
"Yeah?" Shisui said distractedly, spanning a quick survey of the surrounding area. Indeed, the faint chakra signature had vanished. He had completely forgotten about Itachi's kid brother. That was just the norm with Itachi—he had a way of drawing attention to himself despite his quiet nature. It was an inconvenient but natural consequence that, in his presence, everyone else just sort of got relegated to the sidelines, shoved onto the peripheries of awareness. Shisui wondered if he was the only person in the world who noticed this, in much of the same way that he seemed to be the only person in the world who noticed Itachi's human credentials.
"We should make some time to go over the details of the mission," Itachi said contemplatively. And then he announced, "Let's meet at headquarters at first light tomorrow," and the five-year-old that on good days inhabited Shisui's main brain groaned. First light. That would be the third time this week he wouldn't be getting a good night's sleep. Thank God he still had most of his lunch hour, and the day was cool enough to catch a nice, discerning nap.
Laying back on the grass and closing his eyes, he said, "Wake me up when it's time to go."
When Shisui got home that evening, the house was empty and eerily quiet. He went into the kitchen for a drink, and found a note on the counter. It read:
I have decided to start my pilgrimage early this year. Will write once I've made it to Bird Country, provided that I still have all my limbs attached. The groceries are in the fridge—I only bought soy milk so if you want 2 percent you'll have to make another trip. Don't forget to change your underwear and water the plants.
Shisui rolled his eyes so hard he nearly gave himself a headache. He loved his dad, but it was disturbing as well as mortifying on an intellectual level the way his mom's death ten years earlier had caused his dad to go into a never-ending midlife crisis. He had still been a wide-eyed tod at the time, and so had thankfully been spared all the drama that had allegedly ignited when his dad had boldly announced in the middle of the Uchiha New Year Banquet that he would be quitting his celebrated career as a shinobi altogether and embracing a natural, non-violent way of life, and that since he had given the clan the best years of his life and the woman he loved, they could now go "fuck yourselves for all I give a damn" [sic].
As a result of this scandalicious declaration, his dad had immediately been branded the Black Sheep of the Uchiha Clan, and for years to come the two of them hadn't been welcome at any family functions. It had been a miracle Shisui had been allowed to attend the Ninja Academy at all, although he suspected the late Yondaime Hokage might have had a hand in facilitating that arrangement. The Yondaime and his dad had always been good friends; his wife had used to make them dinners after Shisui's mom had passed away.
It had been the same grim giving—a viciously incessant cycle of rinse, lather, repeat—for as long as Shisui could remember. He had endured the cold stares he'd gotten at school from legions of dark eyes, the whispering that had sometimes waylaid adults in the streets. His education wasn't much help—it was difficult to maintain perfect attendance and clock in the right numbers of study hours when you were seven years old and kept having to rush off to save your house from burning down because your father had passed out in a drunken haze with the stove on or because he had decided to try out a new, innovative and highly arsonic recipe in his perpetual obsession with healthiness and the natural way of life.
Still, he would have endured that and much more, had he not been so fueled with a fervent desire to succeed, to prove everyone wrong. Shisui had decided, long ago, that he would rise above the rest, become the best shinobi Konoha had ever seen, that he would win back his family's graces with the Uchiha Clan if it killed him. This had marked the dichotomy in his relationship with his dad, but, dismay and regret aside, there was nothing Shisui could have done. He had never wanted for the two of them to become estranged, but he couldn't change the fact that his mom's death had taken away something from them both, something important and irreplaceable. He couldn't even begin to understand the aching loss that lived inside his dad, let alone fill it.
He'd settled instead for redeeming their names in the clan's collectively narrowminded eye, and acceptance had come, with the weight of time and his friendship with the Clan Head's eldest son—which had gained an alluring, brothers-from-different-sides-of-the-track nuance to it. And at fourteen, with his ground-breaking initiation into the ANBU, on-the-horizon captaincy, and the implicit acknowledgement as the most skilled clan member, he hadn't done too badly for himself.
Shisui wasn't -- well, he wasn't Itachi. He wasn't a prodigy, hadn't been the best in his class, hadn't had the most fortuitous of starts; at his birth, no one had come to mark him out for future greatness. But he was the best, and that was all that mattered.
So he downed some water to wash away the sudden bitter taste in his mouth, and looked down at the mission scroll he'd wrested from Mamiya's bureaucratic clutches. After a moment's consideration, he decided to lay it aside for the night; he'd already spent upwards of seven hours that day neck-deep in paperwork, and unfortunate though it was, his many mind-blowing skills notably did not include the super-secretary ability to mass-file.
He was going to make himself a small dinner, and then he was hitting the sack. There was a long day ahead of him. Time, tide and Itachi waited for no man.
An unspecified number of hours later, he woke up gasping for breath, his skin covered in a cold sheen of sweat.
Shisui shivered, and pulled the blanket closer around his shoulders. His heart continued to pound audibly for a long time after he woke. He had been torn from sleep by a long and vivid dream. In it, the world had been depicted as a two-toned landscape, water and sky, black and red, the water black, the sky red. The air had had a strange, heady consistency, like condensed nectar and just as sweet—so thick you could have stuck out your hand and scooped up a fistful.
In his dream, Shisui recalled, he had been lying on his back in a pool of that black, black water, the silky tendrils curling around his floating body and keeping it aloft. Above him had been that violent sky, still and gathering and unnaturally crimson, and below him: the thick blackness, deep and ineffable and ominous, as if challenging him to dwell too long on its fathomless nature.
And then, he remembered, there had been a muttered word and the water surface had moved; someone had been kneeling over him. That someone had hovered above him, probably standing waist-deep in the water, which couldn't have been that deep after all. The person had had a rock in hand, but the face had been like a shaded area in a drawing. Shisui had tried to raise himself to get a good look at the person's face, but his muscles had been like lead, holding him rigid. He had thought, lying there, that if he could only try a bit harder…
And then he had woken up.
Forty-five minutes later, having convinced himself that the disturbing dream had been a side-effect of the substandard udon he had consumed at dinner, Shisui emerged from the shower to find that the first rays of pink morning light were spilling from the apex of the horizon into his windows. It was time to go meet Itachi, he supposed, and went into his bedroom to change into his uniform.
He froze at the entrance.
On the surface, the room looked undisturbed, but Shisui's acute powers of perception informed him that something was out of order. Further inspection brought in the fact that the mission scroll which he had laid out on his desk the night before was now nowhere to be seen. Whoever had taken it, however, was still in the room, if the faint but traceable trail of chakra were any indication. He homed in on the wall closet, quiet and inviting.
The last time Shisui had been caught at unawares in a critical situation was never, but when he flung open the closet door expecting a full-on attack only to find a tousled-hair Uchiha Sasuke huddling in a dark corner and glaring at him with smoldering hatred, all he could do was stare.
Then he recovered himself, and reached forward to haul his morning intruder out by the collars of his kiddies-sized pajama, saying, "I'll have that back, if you don't mind," as he tugged the mission scroll out of the boy's squirrelly grasp.
Sasuke scowled at him darkly. Shisui returned the look with enthusiasm.
"I'll give you ten seconds to explain what you're doing in my house at this hour," he said slowly, and added, "Other than trying to steal my possessions, that is," pocketing the scroll.
Instead of answering the question, Sasuke just scrunched up his face obscenely. "You aren't all that tough," he said in a snotty voice, and tried to wrench himself free, only his girly arms probably couldn't move feathers, much less Uchiha Shisui.
Shisui frowned for a moment. He had no idea what might have prompted this depth of insanity, partially because he had never paid the boy much thought at all besides what was due to his position as Itachi's kid brother. In his mind, he didn't even have a very clear mental picture of Sasuke, having basically fobbed him off as a smaller version of Itachi with marginally worse hair.
In fact, his only Sasuke-related memory involved a five years old Itachi coming into class one day, quieter than usual, and abruptly asking Shisui, "What are little brothers like?", to which Shisui had replied that he hadn't had a clue and, as he was an only child and his mom had been dead for three years, wouldn't likely get one anytime soon.
Sasuke was still glaring at him hatefully, but now there was something in the depths of those freakishly huge eyes that Shisui didn't like. "I wonder what he sees in you," the boy mumbled under his breath.
"What--" Shisui began angrily, but was summarily cut off when Sasuke grabbed a fistful of his nightshirt and proceeded to shove his face—on which his lips featured, notably—all into Shisui's personal space. There was some messy slippage—dear God, did the kid just lick his lips?—and then just like that, away and clear.
There was a moment in which Shisui's mind overloaded and he tried desperately to remember if he had done anything unintentionally gay recently, maybe talked with a lisp or fluttered his hands or addressed anyone as "sweetheart". Nothing in particular came to mind. Perhaps his ardent passion for the fairer sex was not ostentatious enough—his apparent lack of interest regarding girls his age might have bred some monstrous allegations.
Then he realized that he still had Sasuke clinging to his shirtfront, and shoved the boy away in horror, keeping just enough self-control to retain from giving Sasuke a concussion and escaping through the window in the ensuing confusion.
Sasuke sat up on the unmade futon, and smirked triumphantly. Shisui took offense at that—in his line of work, people weren't usually allowed to just saunter into his residence and touch his stuff, let alone touch him in terrible and entirely filthy, inappropriate ways; there had to be consequences.
But before he could open his mouth to say, "Listen, you little punk…" Sasuke had shrugged and dropped his next bombshell, "Oh, didn't you like that? Itachi and I do it all the time," and that took the words straight out of Shisui's mouth.
There was a moment of sickening, farcical silence.
"Oh my God," Shisui said, putting his hand over his face. "Oh my God. What. I said what, right? Or was I too busy screaming in my mind?"
The smug look on Sasuke's face was becoming quite epic. "I said that nii-san and I…"
"Oh God," Shisui moaned desperately. "Don't—don't call him nii-san. That makes it worse somehow."
There was also a kind of sick irony to it. This would be funny in a warped way if Shisui weren't so sure he'd be struck by lightning for it the next time he left his house. Sasuke still looked smug, and for no particular reason, he thought: brother. And then: all the time.
He was not freaked out.
Total panic set in a minute later, when the front door opened suddenly with a hollow click and the unmistakable soundtrack of someone entering the house wafted in from the dark corridor, accompanied by a low-spoken, "Shisui?". It was without a doubt Itachi's impassive drawl.
Shisui blanched, and stared with detached horror at Sasuke, found the boy staring back in a similiar fashion. Then they both took stock of their present predicament, the fact that they were still sprawled out all over the messy futon in their nightclothes, and simultaneously shifted into motion.
In the confused whirlwind of actions that ensued, Shisui managed to pick Sasuke up by his collars, fling open a window, and toss the boy out on his ass, all in a record-breaking sequence that concluded just in time for him to wipe down his forehead and paste a suitably nonplussed expression onto his face to greet his partner when the shogi doors to his bedroom slid open.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, trying to sound as sleepy and ingenuous as possible.
And when Itachi said, "You were supposed to meet me this morning to go over the mission. You never showed," and Shisui said, "The mission! I have the instructions right here," and reached into his pants pocket for the scroll, he found it had disappeared.
The Sandaime Hokage looked as if he was seriously doubting his decision to come out of retirement.
"Allow me to reassess the situation," he said in a flat monotone devoid of warmth, humanity, or major vital signs. "You lost the mission scroll? The mission scroll that, I am given to understand, you haven't even read?"
Shisui bowed his head and tried to make soft, prevaricating noises that he hoped would assuage Sarutobi's wrath long enough for him to come up with a clever ruse out of this whole ridiculous mess. Beside him, Itachi's face was its usual slatelike mask, but the fractional pressure he was exerting on his bottom lip told the world that he was unimpressed and unamused.
The expression on Sarutobi's face faltered quickly from incensed to utterly hopeless. "Remind me to sack whoever it was that thought having twelve-year-olds for ANBU was a good idea," he muttered around his pipe.
Shisui was tempted to argue the point that he was in fact a lively fourteen, but one stony glare from the Hokage sent him floundering back into the depths of pitiful, indiscernible noises. From behind her desk, Mamiya the Old Bag sent him a maddening look of malicious glee and mouthed silently the words NO MANNERS. Shisui gave her the stink eye.
Itachi's lips pressed into an invisible line, and his eyes narrowed. The twelve-year-olds comment must have chafed, Shisui deduced with doomed cheerfulness.
Shisui couldn't meet his partner's eyes, so it was to the Hokage that he said, "I'm sorry, Hokage-sama, that I have no better explanation to offer at the moment. But I can assure you that the document will be recovered within the hour, and that I stand to take full responsibility for any infraction that might potentially be incurred by my mishaps."
Sarutobi's face remained impassive, but in his eyes was a man slowly losing the battle to the encroaching abyss.
"Excuse my forwardness, sir," Itachi interrupted, sounding like he'd had enough, "but wouldn't it be more time-efficient just to issue a new order and carry on with the mission according to schedule? If Shisui would rather take the time to recover the missing scroll, I would be more than willing to perform the necessary duties by myself."
His voice was tense—more so than usual—which was how Shisui knew he was in deep shit, but that didn't keep the shocked, betrayed look from spreading all over his gaping face.
Hatake Kakashi, who had been strolling innocuously into the room, did a sharp, obvious one-eighty and scurried back out as quickly as possible.
The Hokage rubbed the space between his eyes and sighed loudly. "Normally, that would be the modus operandi, yes," he explained quietly. "But as Shisui is so deeply convinced that he will be able to recover the scroll within the hour and take full responsibility for his action, I'm going to allow the mission to be postponed. Get that scroll back before the day's out—cover all loose ends—and no one should be the wiser." Now get out of my sight for an indefinite amount of time, his glare implied.
Without looking at Shisui, Itachi spun on his heels and marched out of the office, and as Shisui shuffled quietly after him, feeling slightly doomed, they were met at the exit by Kakashi. The ANBU looked up as Shisui passed him, and whispered, sotto voce, "Dear oh dear. This can't be good," making certain to shove the cover of the book he was reading right into Shisui's face. Its title, in blinding boldtype red letters, spelt Trouble In Paradise.
You're a dead man, Shisui mouthed angrily over his shoulder at Kakashi, who shrugged innocently.
Outside, he had to jog to catch up with Itachi, who was still walking too-briskly and determined not to look Shisui in the face, as though the very sight might overwhelm his self-control and incite in him those bloody, violent urges. Now for the truly difficult part.
"Look," Shisui said breathlessly, running ahead of his friend and stalling him in his track. "I know you're mad at me right now, but I can swear it wasn't—well, not entirely—my fault…"
"I'm not mad," Itachi said, in a patient voice that meant he was probably planning Shisui's murder and deliberating on how to best dispose of the body. "I just don't understand how you could have misplaced the scroll. Your lack of explanation wasn't quite exactly helpful."
Shisui didn't have a response to that, but he did have something else that he needed to get off his chest. "Did--" he began, hating himself for the way his guts felt like they were being pounded into mincemeat. "Did you really mean what you said about not wanting to get paired up for the mission?"
And when Itachi said nothing and continued to stare at him intensely, Shisui felt his heart swell painfully and threaten to choke his circulation. "Well?" he pressed.
"You've been acting very odd today," Itachi observed, not answering the question. His voice was even and retained its trademark lack of harmonics, but there was a strange tension sitting between his eyebrows that Shisui didn't like. "You've never let anything personal affect your professional performance in the past. Has something happened?"
I don't even begin to know how to answer you, Shisui thought tiredly, though I wished to God I did. Out loud, he said, "Let's just say—it's just been a very strange couple of days, and leave it at that, okay? You don't have anything to worry about. I said I'm going to get that scroll back, and I will. My word."
He didn't want to admit it, but Itachi's statement in the Hokage's office and the way his friend was looking at him now—his eyes strained and searching, the irises a shade darker than usual—made him feel small and helpless, like he was disappointing, and that was just ridiculous. But he knew what Itachi meant, knew what he had to do, and that had to count for something.
"I believe you," Itachi said at last, and the air cleared for no particular reason. Shisui tried to ignore the sense of vast relief that insisted on coursing through him as though some sort of balance had been restored to the universe, but he wasn't fooling anyone, much less himself.
"Say," he began, thinking fast. "Since we have the rest of the day off—are you going to pass by your house anytime today?"
Itachi frowned. "Perhaps. Why?"
What an interesting conundrum—should he commit seppuku now or wait until he had had a chance to strangle Sasuke first?
"I haven't been over in ages."
It would be a snow-day in hell before Itachi softened for anything, but on this particular occasion, he did clear his throat and say, "Well, Father would not be in today."
Itachi had issues with his father, something which Shisui knew and actively encouraged, as he figured it was normal for everyone to have their own set of parental issues. Besides, he'd never liked Itachi's dad anyway. He had always been one of Shisui's dad's most vocal detractors, and was also the one who kept looking at Shisui like he was lower than scum every time he was seen in Itachi's company.
Of course, there was another, entirely separate reason Shisui disliked Uchiha Fugaku.
That reason made itself apparent when they came in sight of the Main House complex and a slim woman with long dark hair appeared at the gates. Upon seeing her son and his friend approach, Uchiha Mikoto broke into a warm smile and softly waved her greeting. Shisui felt his heart do a somersault.
It had happened like this. One minute he had been eight years old and impressionable, happy and staring too much and filled with childlike wonder just to be invited over to his best friend's house for the first time, and the next his ears had been filled with the most mellifluous of voices, saying, "You must be Shisui-kun. I've heard so much about you," and he had blinked and looked up—and up—into the smiling face of the most beautiful woman in the world.
The first thing he had noticed was her hair—its aching length, the shiny blue-black tint, the mysterious, unimaginable texture. The second thing he had noticed was her eyes, the way her long lashes curved elegantly over their dark pools, the countless expressions that always matched whatever emotion currently played out on her soft pink mouth.
Shisui's jaws had dropped, and he had stared. And learned to spontaneously wax poetic.
Six years later, nothing had changed.
"Shisui-kun," Mikoto was saying, smiling in a manner that inspired humanity and selfless activism in desperate wanton criminals. "I'm so glad to see you here. I was just going to look for you."
"Yes," Shisui said stupidly, and then blinked and added, "What? Sorry. Um. Did you say my name?"
"I have something that might belong to you," Mikoto said, holding her hand out to him. Shisui became momentarily distracted by the mole on her inner-wrist, the one that he wanted to put his tongue against because it looked like it'd taste of milk chocolate. Then he saw what she was holding in her hand: it was his mission scroll, still sealed and rolled-up, with his name clearly stamped across its length.
Shisui gaped. Beside him, Itachi also looked puzzled.
"I found this while I was cleaning Sasuke's room," Mikoto explained, seemingly unaware of the gobsmacked expressions around her. "I thought he must have taken it from your room, Itachi-kun, even though I've told him so many times not to play around with your things. I just don't know what to do with that boy. I asked him about it, but he wouldn't even talk to me. He's grounded now, of course."
Itachi raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. Shisui smirked. Somewhere within those walls was a sulking, foul-tempered seven-year-old who was probably glaring at him in simmering rage with a side of premature homoerotic frustration at this very moment. He had enough self-awareness to be vaguely concerned at his obvious lack of disturbed horror—really, what was this apparent fineness all about?—but decided to chalk it up to the infamously male power of denial and intensive memory-suppression.
"Thank you so much, Mikoto-san," he said, affecting a manly, appreciative tone, only it wasn't because deep down inside he wanted Mikoto to leave her husband and marry him and make him strawberry-flavored mochi forever and ever. "You've saved the mission."
As if reading his mind, Mikoto smiled again and said, "It's late in the day. Wouldn't you boys like to stay for lunch? I've made some tasty desserts."
This was how Shisui knew they were going to be together forever.
But then Itachi had to go and ruin it all by saying, "There's no time, Kaasan. We have to get back to headquarters immediately and review the order for the mission tomorrow," and for the first time, Shisui thought meanly that his friend was possibly a vindictive little shit.
"I probably won't be home for dinner today," Itachi added like an afterthought. Mikoto looked crestfallen. Shisui resisted the urge to smite.
"Oh," Itachi's mother said plaintively, and turned an appealing eye on Shisui. "Are you sure?"
Shisui gazed at her wistfully, but shook his head. Although prolonged exposure had not caused Mikoto to become any less crushingly attractive or ridiculously kind, it was also kind of foolhardy to express verdant desire with her son(s) present and easily within killing range.
Itachi was already walking off. As Shisui followed in his partner's wake, he sneaked back a glance, and saw that, for a long time afterward, Uchiha Mikoto just stood rooted to the spot, eyes strained in their direction with a lost expression on her face.
Shisui was King of the Universe. God only wished he were this cool. One day, Uchiha Mikoto, the greatest woman who ever lived, would finally come by the sudden revelation that they were meant to be, kick her sourpuss good-for-nothing husband to the curb, and make an honest man out of Shisui, and then the legacy of his stupendous glories would be complete. He just had to remember when the time came to dodge Itachi everyday for the rest of his life.
Until then, however, he'd content himself with scaling the ladder to the heights of professional supremacy. Today: ANBU captaincy; tomorrow: the world.
He flitted from tree to tree, counting the calls of forest birds, piping in the leaves hanging overhead. Through their green curtain, the clouds moved in slow waves across the sky. The mission had been a sound success, and on the way back, he and Itachi had separated, taking different paths and agreeing to meet up later at a later checkpoint. It wasn't far off, at this point. He could smell Konoha in the forest air. It would be good to be back.
Then something in the air shifted, and Shisui threw himself into the thick branches of a tall tree, flattening his back against its cool trunk.
A minute later, Sasuke came bounding up the path, looking thrown and confused. Shisui rolled his eyes. Dear God, not this again. For a second, he was tempted to lead the kid on a wild rambling goose chase just for the vindictive satisfaction of it, but ultimately decided against it. One day he would look back on all this and laugh and laugh and laugh, but that day was not today.
At least he could take pleasure in the nasty shock the boy received when Shisui seemingly jumped out of nowhere and dropped in front of him.
Sasuke pointed a kunai at him, but it was an Academy-issue kunai, so—whatever.
"I think," Shisui said as he casually disarmed the boy, "this is a good time to mention that I am licensed to kill."
Sasuke made a noise that was halfway between an outraged squawk and a pant-crapping squeak, but otherwise remained silent and glaring.
"Talk," Shisui said curtly. It was a command, not a request.
Sasuke's face screwed up and turned an alarming shade of puce that brought to mind cartoon kettles moments before they blew up. "You're stupid!" he yelled, almost teary in the eyes from fury. "You're stupid and your face is stupid and everything about you is so stupid! I don't know what nii-san sees in you, and I never will!"
"You followed me here just to tell me tha--" he said, but stopped when one thing after another began clicking into place, and realization hit like a freight train.
As Shisui stared at Sasuke's angry red face as though he were seeing the boy anew, he saw the raw, miserable desperation there, and thought, I'd really like to wake up now.
The random lips action with creepy incestuous undertones had been perplexing enough, but this—this just went and blew everything else clear out of the water. Granted, Itachi also had long hair and admittedly nice almond-shaped eyes, and what with his lanky body could probably pass for his mother on a cloudy day, and there was also that one summer when they had gone swimming after a long mission, and Shisui had, well, he had been thirteen and had sort of looked at his best friend and the damp butterfly of his ribs and…
Shisui grimaced, catching himself mid-metaphor. Fabulous. Not only was his sexuality now most certainly positively hanging in the balance, but in a three-day span he had managed to foster inappropriate thoughts about not just one but three members of his best friend's family. What was next, Fugaku doing a striptease and seducing him in his wife's apron?
"Okay," he said slowly, willing himself not to go into cardiac arrest from the onslaught of mental images. "I would ask if you were serious, but I've known your brother for eight years so let's cut straight to: Are you out of your fucking mind?"
Sasuke gaped at him dumbly. "You said a five-hundred-ruan word."
Shisui almost reached for his fanny pack where he kept his wallet, but stopped himself in time. Although—five hundred ruan for a swear word? God, what kind of neo-capitalist child-rearing manuals had Mikoto been perusing? He had better have a talk with her about that, seeing as how she was going to be the mother of his children and all.
"Don't change the subject," he hissed menacingly. "You're going to explain, in short, precise terms, how the thought could ever have entered your crazy little head that your brother and I…"
And then, the unthinkable happened.
Shisui had time enough to register the dark shapes dropping out of the sky before he grabbed Sasuke and shoved him into the crook formed between the gnarled roots of an ancient tree, just in time to avoid a shower of senbon needles. "Stay there, and do not move," he instructed, kunai at the ready, one between two fingers.
"I can help," Sasuke insisted hotly, starting to get up, but recoiled when Shisui glared at him with an expression that made hard men wet their pants. "Stay," Shisui said one last time, and shot off.
The attackers were five in all, each armed to the teeth. They wore no allegiant insignia, which meant they were probably rogue-nin who had gone after his conspicuous ANBU of Konoha uniform. He could find that out later, after he had killed them all.
"You gentlemen are just in time," Shisui said, moving to face the assailants as a smirk curved slowly over his mouth. "I've been on edge all day."
The air tasted of iron as his Sharingan bled the world. His heartbeat was thunderous and rolling in his chest, adrenaline roared through him like his veins were pumping battery acid. He moved, he soared, he ruled the fight, he had control. Every sound, every movement around him seemed clearer, sharper, crystallized, and he took it all in—dammit, this was what he loved.
A flurry of kunai later, two of the rogues no longer resembled human beings as much as abused pushpin cushions. Two more had been incinerated by his new-and-improved version of the classic Fire Jutsu. Shisui savored the satisfaction on his tongue as he slammed the fifth facefirst into the forest ground, scattering leaves and creating a crater in the soft dirt.
Then he heard a shriek.
There were thirty-two seconds lost somewhere in there, and Shisui didn't want them back. All he could remember was the metallic flash of the kunai, the sight of a small, dark-headed body down and sprawling on the ground as a larger form loomed above it—there was a sixth, how did he not know this—and his body moved without clearing it with his mind, weapon drawn and desperate, and slid into the narrow space between the struggling figures.
There was impact, which Shisui dimly registered, but it didn't matter because he had already slashed his blade across the enemy's jugular—he could taste the sprayed blood on his tongue. What he knew perfectly well was that one moment he was awake and alert and still collapsed in a protective defense around Sasuke, asking the boy if he was alright, and the next he was on the ground and Sasuke's horrible pleading face was above him. There were tears on Sasuke's cheeks and blood on his hands that Shisui couldn't remember being there before, and the birds had gone silent and he could hear Sasuke's racing heart, thudding and scared, as the brilliant green forest light faded out and the sky went black, black, black…
Shisui was dreaming. At least he was certain of that much, so he knew he couldn't be dead or anything. He was dreaming, and from the look of things and the heavy, flower-sweet scent of the air, it appeared to be the same dream he had had two nights before.
Except this time around he wasn't floating on his back in a pool of black water, but standing on a riverbank. He recognized it as the same riverbank where he and Itachi usually went to have lunch, except he had never seen it done in red and black before. He looked down the gentle slope to where the Nakano was roaring angrily in a rush of frothing black water, then looked up to the crimson sky, where he saw words written across it, in large, sharply black lines of kanji that read: THE SUN SETS ON STILL WATER.
The sun sets on still water, Shisui repeated to himself. What on Earth could that mean? He was aware, on some cloudy, subconscious level, that there was a latent meaning to these words, something that hung in the air and would take solid form if he could just focus his mind on it, but in a moment, something else had captured his attention.
Someone was walking further up the bank, moving away quickly. It was Itachi. Shisui was sure of it. His eyes weren't quite used to the murky illumination in this red-and-black world, and Itachi had his back to him, but Shisui would recognize that outline anywhere. Following a sudden impulse, he took off running in Itachi's direction. He called his friend's name, but either his voice could not be heard or Itachi couldn't hear him because the younger boy continued to walk off in that same brisk, businesslike pace without once turning around.
Shisui continued to run up the riverbank after Itachi. The crimson-hued grass felt soft and scratchy under the pads of his feet. He had almost caught up when it occurred to him that Itachi was making for the old clan shrine, hunching like a blackened, decrepit man at one corner of the horizon. He made it to the bottom steps just as Itachi pulled open the heavy doors and went inside. Shisui called his name one more time, but just as before, Itachi did not heed him.
Shisui climbed the steps, but did not go in. For some reason, he was filled with quiet dread. He had never been inside the Nakano shrine, but he knew for a fact that the women of the clan sometimes went there to pray and make offerings. In fact, there was no reason at all to fear this dusty old shrine, but as he stood before the heavy wooden doors, he was apprehensive. The stagnant sound of the steeple bells seemed to amplify his anxiety. At last, he went to the doors and pushed them open.
Inside, the shrine was shrouded in total darkness. Shisui called Itachi's names a few more times, but never got a reply. It felt as though the place was completely deserted, but he knew that could not be, for he had just seen Itachi gone inside moments before. As he stood just inside the entrance, trying to get a feel of the place, it occurred to Shisui that the hot, stale air within the shrine didn't smell like anything a shrine should smell of—no incense, no burnt candles, no lacquered altars. Instead, it had the same smell as the air outside, the thick, dripping scent like the nectar of some sweet, poisonous flower, a smell that could be described as nothing other than red.
"Itachi?" Shisui called out one more time, feeling sweat run down behind his ear, and as he did so, he was aware of a certain presence, a something that was fast approaching, coming at him with claws outstretched from within the depths of the darkness…
He woke up.
The first thing he noticed was the sound of mechanical beeping. The second thing he noticed was the myriad of wires and plastic tubes carrying undoubtedly life-saving fluids of some kind that curled around him and seemed to be joined with various points of his body, and that was when he corrected his situational perception from "afterlife" to "Konoha hospital room".
The dull throb of pain was the third thing he noticed—God, his body felt like it had been run over by a herd of elephants. Those beasts, he couldn't even move.
And then he saw the head of unruly black hair disappearing into white hospital sheets, and was renewed with fresh despair.
"Oh God," he moaned, rubbing the side of his head. "And here I almost had myself convinced it was all a horrible hallucination."
His declaration roused Sasuke from sleep. The boy jerked his head up from the bed and shook it blearily, eyes unfocused. Then they zoomed in on Shisui's hopeless expression, and widened like luminous saucers. "You're awake!"
"Yeah," Shisui said, and immediately became wary. "Why do you sound so cheerful about it?"
Sasuke stared down at his hands. "You wouldn't wake up for so long. I—I didn't want you to die because of me—because of protecting me. Y—you would have been fine if I hadn't been there. I wanted to help, but I just got in the way and made you get hurt."
Suspicion suddenly flooded Shisui's mind. He looked at Sasuke's face sharply, saw the boy's dark expressive eyes all confused and softly downcast, and recognized with some alarm the look as something very similiar to the one his own reflection wore every time he caught himself looking in the mirror while thinking about Sasuke's mom, only not because his feelings for Mikoto were of the true, noble, self-sacrificing variety, except for the part where he wanted her to leave her husband and marry him and make him strawberry-flavored mochi forever.
"Don't sweat it, kid," he said leniently after a moment. Then he tried for a fond smile and—oh, what the hell—tousled a bit of Sasuke's stringy mop of hair. "You—you're going to need a lot of therapy, but you might turn out alright yet."
Sasuke smiled back shyly. Shisui wanted to run.
"That thing you did," Sasuke began, sounding awkward and turning six shades of red. "The first move with all the kunai and stuff—how did you—I mean the angle of it was…"
"You mean my Dive of the Phoenix?" Shisui said, vaguely proud. Sure, the name could use a little work, but at least the essential coolness was grasped. "Liked that, didn't you? I invented that myself. Fifty-two kunai in a five-second airborne sequence. No one else in three nations can beat that record. Itachi will tell you that it's a lot of superfluous movement, but that's mostly because he's jealous he didn't think of it himself."
The notion of upstaging Itachi seemed to grab Sasuke's attention. "I wish I could do that," he said forlornly. "My brother can do all sorts of cool things, and Father is always talking about how I have to show my ability and all that stuff, but I don't see how—not that I don't try! I mean, nii-san used to help me with training, but now he hardly ever has time. It's like he doesn't even care about me anymore…"
Sasuke shut up like a kid who suddenly realized he'd said too much, and looked extremely miserable. So that's what this is about, Shisui thought in dawning insight. He felt he should say something nice and comforting, but didn't, because, hello?
Instead, he said tentatively, "I could—I mean, that is if you want—I could show you how the Phoenix maneuver works sometime, maybe lay down the groundwork a little. That'd show your brother, right? Make him pay attention?"
The effect was nonetheless startling. Sasuke beamed at him; there were two bright red spots on his cheeks, he was so excited. Shisui momentarily raised his guards, lest the kid wanted to hold hands or something and he had to stage an impromptu prison break, because there was hugely embarrassing and then there was just unforgivable.
"So…" Shisui began in a high-pitched squeal, and immediately hated himself and the entire world, "you seem to like, um, kissing."
It wasn't that Shisui didn't know better—he always had. He had been on the point of pronouncing, "And now we act like gentlemen and never speak of this again," but as long as they were sharing this Very Special Moment, he might as well get some answers.
Sasuke wrinkled his nose like something particularly vile had been shoved under his face, and Shisui felt a desperate twinge of relief at the return of the Bratty Scowl—God knew the boy's sudden foray into sweet, wholesome affections had almost sent him into permanent paralysis.
"Of course not," Sasuke said matter-of-factly, like this was the most obvious thing in the world and it was Shisui's fault he didn't get it. "I just." Here he colored slightly. "I overheard some of the girls talking about it at school—they said you can kiss people you like and stuff."
"Do you really kiss your brother all the time?" Shisui ventured, striving for off-handedness and failing spectacularly.
"No," Sasuke mumbled. He sounded really sad about that. "I made that up just to make you jealous. You don't have to, like, rub it in or anything."
Was it too late to unhook the IV tubes and save himself a long, painful death by frustration?
"For the last time, kid," Shisui said, massaging the bridge of his nose. "If you talk about me snogging Itachi in places where it could be overheard one more time…"
"Oh my! Is—is this a bad time?"
Shisui looked up, and turned various shades of red he hadn't known existed in the color spectrum when he saw Mikoto standing just inside the doorway, looking confused and embarrassed. Itachi, standing beside her, had a blank expression, though his eyes did look rounder than usual.
"Sasuke," Mikoto began feebly, not quite recovering from the shock. "W—why don't you go outside and wait for us? I'm sure Shisui-kun needs his rest."
Sasuke happily trouped himself out the door. At the entrance, he turned and gave a sly, quicksilver smile that unfortunately no one but Shisui saw—or perhaps that was the whole point. Shisui felt he only wanted to die slightly. He must be going soft.
"I was so worried when I heard what happened," Mikoto said, and Shisui glanced hurriedly at Itachi, who gave a slight nod that assured Shisui whatever version of the truth Mikoto had heard had already been highly editorialized. Good. No point in freaking her out over her younger son involvement, after all.
"I brought you some snacks," Mikoto continued, putting her handbasket on the bedside table to fluff his pillow. Shisui saw at least five different colors of mochi. "Is there anything else you need, Shisui-kun?"
"Thank you, Mikoto-san," Shisui said faintly, dizzy in the head and not from the injury. "I mean—no, I don't need anything else." Just your undying love.
Itachi's mom just nodded, smiling vaguely, and gave him the immiscible look of a concerned mother who had inadvertently tripped over the realization that her son and his closest male friend did not always spend unnatural amounts of time in each other's company because they were planning on being totally, completely heterosexual with each other. Shisui died a little inside.
This was just great. He finally got Mikoto to appear in his hospital room with a basket of her tantalizing culinary treats, and she clearly thought he was engaging in a secret homosexual romance with her eldest son as well as using the youngest as an accomplice. Life was so unfair.
Just when he was debating having some sort of gay epiphany, however, Fate took pity on Shisui and threw him a bone. "Where is your father, Shisui-kun?" Mikoto suddenly asked in concern, glancing around the spare, flower-less room as if hoping for his dad to materialize out of thin air. "Who is going to take care of you while you're recuperating?"
"Um, he's on his annual pilgrimage," Shisui said, feeling fit to die from embarrassment. "He won't be back for a few months." He paused, and added hastily, "But it's alright, Mikoto-san—I've done this before, and I fare okay with the nurses."
"No!" Mikoto exclaimed, as though the very thought outraged her. "I won't hear of it. As Clan Matriarch and your kinswoman, it is my duty to make sure that you receive the most attentive care in your convalescence, even if I have to take it on myself to provide it. I'll go speak with the doctors this very minute."
Shisui's mouth was hanging open—he'd died and gone to Heaven, that was the only plausible explanation. He couldn't even be bothered to feel aggrieved at the shifty, considering look Mikoto shot between him and Itachi as she left the room, so powerful was the vehicle of his glee.
And then there were just him and his partner in the room.
In the intervening commotion, Itachi had pulled a chair up to the side of Shisui's bed and curled up in it. He had a pen in one hand and a scroll laid out across the top of his knees, his expression one of deep immersion. It was weirdly normal, and Shisui was sort of glad for it.
"What've you got there?" he asked drowsily.
"Post-mission report," Itachi said. "The Hokage put me off my duties for a week."
"You have a week off and the hospital is the first place you go?" Shisui asked incredulously.
"Of course," Itachi said simply. "You're always going to be first."
And that was—well, it wasn't a promise or a declaration or anything at all, but it was something, and that made about as much sense as anything did where Itachi was concerned. Shisui felt assured by that, like he could at least count on this part of his life to remain anchored even if everything else changed.
Itachi coughed. "Hokage-sama also… assigned me to do all your paperwork while you're out of commission, as a sign of partnership solidarity."
Shisui's eyes went wide. "He grounded you? Oh my God, that's too much. It's almost worth getting stabbed in the back."
The way Itachi was glaring at him only made everything ten times better.
"So," he went on, out of breath from laughing and holding his ribs. "What really happened? Man, I don't even remember anything after I went down. I was sure I'd got all of them, though."
"You did," Itachi said, eyes on the scroll. "I went to search for you when you didn't arrive at the checkpoint, and found Sasuke trying to carry you. You were already unconscious from the blood loss. We brought you to the hospital. You're on chemical treatment—the weapons those rogue-nin used had some kind of toxin on them that's preventing your wound from healing properly, and the meds are supposed to help work it out of your system."
Shisui pondered this. That would explain why the skin around his injury felt like it was burning up and melting off at the same time. Then something else occurred to him. "Did—did Sasuke tell you what was going on?"
Itachi's expression grew shrewd and unreadable. "Sasuke was in no condition to talk—he was quite hysterical. I've never seen him panic like that." Then he added maliciously, "He must really like you."
Shisui felt he could choke on the layers of thick, bitter irony. "Aside from that," he said pointedly, "didn't you notice anything out of the usual? The fact that your brother had the mission scroll? Or how he just randomly appeared on the scene of a rogue-nin attack?"
Itachi peered at him guardedly over the top of his scroll. "I drew my own conclusions," he said noncommittally. "Though I do believe you're about to enlighten me."
For a moment, Shisui was sorely tempted to let it go—surely whatever conclusion Itachi had come to must be enormously less bizarre than what had actually transpired—but there was still that skewed but consistent sense of justice.
"It was because of you," he plowed on. He might have a seizure if he didn't get this out in the open soon. "This is what I'm telling you: Sasuke's been following me around for days because he thinks I'm taking up all your time and you don't care about him anymore. He even stole that mission scroll."
Itachi continued to look at him warily, gesturing at Shisui to go on.
"I mean, what the hell's up with that?" Shisui said, and felt sick, because that wasn't what he wanted to ask at all. "I know you're busy and everything—but we're mostly working together and even I make it home for dinner every once in awhile." Even if I have to eat it alone, he didn't add, because this wasn't about him. "Even your mom's worried—have you seen her face recently? And I just—I don't get it—what the fuck are you up to?"
Itachi's eyes narrowed, and the temperature in the room seemed to drop. "Are you criticizing my decision-making abilities, Shisui?" he asked
"No!" Shisui said hotly, his voice rough and scraping in his throat like swallowing glass. "That's not—that's not it at all." I'm trying to say I'm worried about you, asshole, he thought in quiet desperation. Don't go wandering off into places I can't follow.
It was hard to believe that only three days ago they had been able to say things to each other like, "Don't talk with your mouth full". It was like he'd forgotten how to be comfortable around Itachi, and as a result the other boy had further lapsed into his rigidness, incapable of unwinding enough to share his sautéed pork or properly appreciate the simple beauty of an early Konoha autumn. The thought made Shisui feel sick again—like it was being carved into his skin, a wound more painful than every physical injury he'd ever been dealt in his lifetime combined.
The hamstrung expression on Itachi's face told Shisui that his friend was aware of this, too, and wasn't quite sure what to do about it. The hospital radiator hummed around them quietly, and Shisui felt suddenly suffocated. Suddenly, everything was horrible. Everything was shadows and Itachi would miss him in the darkness and go straight past and disappear.
Then Itachi said, "If I didn't know better, I'd say this is the drugs talking," with visible effort, and Shisui was momentarily relieved that things hadn't frozen entirely into adulthood.
"I understand what you're saying," the younger boy went on, sounding strangely young like he had never been. "Really. And I admit there is sense in some of it, to say the least. I can only imagine the things Father would say if the mere notion of slacking off should ever be brought up in our household, however..."
Shisui muttered something wildly colorful under his breath.
His partner stared at him, nonplussed. "Did you just call my father… a shiftless glory-whore?"
"Yes," Shisui said immediately. "And our tacit agreement on the subject is the only reason this partnership has lasted so long."
"It won't much longer if you continue to embarrass me with the Hokage," Itachi cautioned seriously. "Any more shenanigans and I'll have to kill you myself and plead self-preservation."
"Glory-whore," Shisui stage-whispered, and burst out into laughter at his own cleverness.
"This is definitely the morphine talking," Itachi said, nodding to himself.
Shisui brightened. "They put me on the good stuff? Sweet! The last time I was in here they would only give me Demerol, and that shit didn't do a thing worth damn."
"If you develop a drug habit, I really will have to drop you," Itachi said serenely without looking up from the report he had gone back to writing. He narrowed his eyes in concentration, moving his pen tip querulously across the paper, occasionally tapping the other end against his chin.
Shisui settled back onto the pillows and heaved a sigh of satisfaction. "You're sweet on me, admit it," he chuckled at the ceiling. "You're scribbling mushy get-well notes in the margins of that report, aren't you?"
Itachi answered this with his time-honored stony silence, but the little muscle at the corner of his lips did give a slight twitch that on a less abnormal person might have evolved into a wan smile. Shisui took note of this, and figured it was a real if contrived victory for the side of light. It was strange but oddly exciting how so much of his life had been shaped by his friendship with this amazing and oftentimes baffling creature, who in spite of his extraordinariness in most matters could still be depended on to be utterly predictable, at least where Shisui was concerned.
In any case, Itachi was right about one thing—the meds were really kicking in. His pain had subsided, and the objects around him were starting to grow a bit fuzzy around the edges. He wondered vaguely why anyone would fight, would work, would eat, really, do anything at all, when instead they could just lay back and allow this euphoric wave to wash over them like a beautiful sunkissed day in summer when the sky was clear and you could see forever.
"Shisui-kun," Mikoto's voice rang out softly through the pleasant haze. "The nurses told me it was time for your sponge bath. Would you like it now, or would you rather I came back later?"
Shisui felt his grin spread to astronomical proportions. Ass-kicking, life-saving, and now love-winning? All in a day's work.