A painful series of hacking cough rattled his body. Itachi propped himself up by one very shaky elbow, the other hand pressing hard against his lips. The sick"drip drip" of crimson liquid was heard only by him. Even though his eyes were glued to the dusty ground, he felt the stabbing gaze of Madara from the back of his skull. When he saw the pool of blood beneath him, his elbow almost gave way and he lay on his stomach, panting by the stench of copper.

"Are you trying suicide now, Itachi? Death won't really bring you away from your problems," Madara said whimsically.

With another wet choke, Itachi glared at the man from the floor and said, "My problems do not concern you. We've made this matter very clear already."

"You're very brave when you're close to death, Itachi. Don't forget, our plans aren't completed and before it finally does, no one is allowed to die. Or at least," Madara paused thoughtfully, and said, "No one involved is allowed to die."

Itachi smiled at the answer, resulting in another line of blood running down his chin. He thumbed it away absent-mindedly as he got to his feet unsteadily. "That must mean you're going to fulfill your promises to me."

"But of course," Madara replied with a tone of mocking hurt, as if Itachi was questioning his reliability.

To hell with promises. Itachi was never one of keeping promises and he was regretting the fact that he should. But it does not matter, he would be keeping this one last promise he had made to himself for the sake of his younger brother and his responsibility. He would then be happy, for real.

"Foolish descendant of mine, don't you know that by joining forces with me, we will all be at the peak of power?"

The younger man shuffled around his feet, ready to leave the room, "Is that not what we have agreed upon?"

"You remember…"

"How can I forget?"

And everything seemed to darken. The stare Madara was fixing at him, flamed by the Sharingan sucked all warmth in the barricade of the four walls. "You do not forfeit from the plans, Itachi."

He gripped at the insides of his cloak. "I did not say I am."

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"Having troubles with the Jinchuuriki, un?"

"You don't really have to gloat at your fellow comrades, do you?"

"At least it'll keep us busy while you're waiting for Itachi, un."

Kisame was awaiting his partner by the main entrance of the lair. Deidara who had just returned from his little scouting came back on his clay garuda and flopped right on the ground beside Samehada. If the blonde said something rash, he might just shaved him layer by layer down to the core. If he shut up, it would be for everyone's benefits.

And currently, Kisame's level of tolerance had not been challenged.

"Kisame, even if we got Naruto, what do you think will happen to this organisation?"

"To us?"

"Yeah, to us, un."

Kisame chuckled and looked at Deidara. "You're not one for a civilized discussion. Are you sure you want to talk about this instead of some artistic techniques in clay-making and explosions?"

Deidara swept his fringes to the side, his mechanically enhanced eye surveying the amused blue skinned man. "You can laugh, but you can't fool me or any of us."

Samehada was heaved neatly onto his back. Kisame decided that he did not really need this talk.

"Our fate and success is determined by Leader. I don't really care where this whole thing will bring us to, but as long as I get some killings to do in Akatsuki," Kisame said with his devilish grin, "it's all good to me."

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Itachi trudged light-headedly along the corridor. He needed to go outside again with Kisame for more information collecting. Leader had told them to take their time with Naruto but what was the use of delaying if Madara was so anxious about it? He pushed himself to take one step after another; his side ached with each movement. Having holding back the will to express his pain for quite sometime, he stopped and strained his ear for sounds of Madara.

Kisame. That had got to be Kisame.

Itachi pushed himself off the wall which he had no idea he was leaning against. Hobbling down the pathway, he stiffened when he felt a warm brush of air tickling his ear.

"Who are you spying on?" the very familiar voice of Kisame's whispered.

Itachi pulled himself away from his partner. Putting on his usual cold and expressionless mask, he replied with a convincingly strong voice, "There's no one there, Kisame. You're getting the wrong idea."

"Oh, I see you're all hunching – you don't look well, Itachi."

The younger man flung the statement away with a shrug and pressed on. Without really thinking about the repercussions of aggravating someone who had massacred his family without so much of a thought, Kisame did just that by pulling Itachi by the elbow. To his shock, the latter leant back towards the sudden force and would have hit the floor hard if Kisame had not supported his weight.

"Damn, what is wrong with you?" Kisame asked again, arranging Itachi's form to lean against the cold wall.

"Not your business," Itachi grunted as he clutched tightly at his side. Kisame pretended he did not hear all of those words and tore the traveling cloak off with one single yank.

"What – what do you think you're doing, Kisame?"

"To see where you're hurt of course!"

"Don't be ridiculous. I'm – fine."

Itachi closed his eyes as he felt sweat trickling down his temple. Knowing Kisame, a fitting retort would be expected. But it never came. He pried his shadowed eye to see what was stopping Kisame from talking.

He was actually staring at –

"Leave," Itachi commanded.

Kisame frowned, "You actually have this kind of –"

"I said, leave," Itachi repeated more forcefully, though the pain intensified at his exertion and he had to grip his side tighter. "Or you'll regret this."

"I don't think so, Itachi. What are friends for anyway?"

With a sardonic grin, Kisame's bluish hand crept closer to in between Itachi's thighs. The latter closed his legs but a hand forced them apart once more, allowing access to the visible zip.

"Stop Kisame –"

He felt the same rush of something rapidly flowing in his chest. The last time he had it, he collapsed onto the ground in Kakashi's dungeon. Curse his luck. Out of all time…

The zip was undone to reveal a very erect manhood. Kisame curled his hand around the shaft and Itachi threw his head to the side, wishing to teleport himself away. The nether region was beginning to respond to Kisame's callous touch but he was too repulsed by it to even protest. The pain, the warmth, and the taste of something metallic at the back of his throat again…

"Kis – Kisame, stop it –"

The hand pumped harder at the rigid organ.

Before Kisame could even answer to the weak objection, hot white semen spurted in between them, coating the cloak with Itachi's load. The younger man had arched his back when it hit him and along with a swift cry, specks of blood spouted into the air, tainting the lips which were beginning to open and close as the owner drew breaths.

"Itachi?"

He sat there, spent, feeling the pain and the convulsions subside. Releasing his side, he gathered the seam of his cloak which had dangled freely around his elbow and pulled it to his chest. Kisame held him up by the elbow and waited for him to zip the robe up. What must come would come, he thought, and Kisame patiently waited for Tsukuyomi.

With one final inhale, Itach wiped his lips and said, "Let's go, Kisame. We've got to plan our next move on recovering Naruto-kun."

If Itachi was going to pretend nothing had happened, Kisame was not going to grumble.