Itachi had failed.
Pein was going to hand him his ass on a silver platter for this one. This had to be, what, his fourth failure in the space of six months? Kisame was worried. Konan was worried. Deidara was concerned. Sasori seemed indifferent, but Itachi could catch the small twitches that indicated nervousness. Even Hidan and Kakuza were on edge. And Pein…oh, Pein was just volatile.
His last failure, he'd been beaten within an inch of his life, and threatened beyond life itself. He wasn't going home unless Pein couldn't possible hurt him more than he was already hurt, and the only way to do that was probably to either chug a ton of drugs, use something illegal, or just not go back at all. Pein had his ways of even making a scratch across the top layer of skin feel like he had stabbed you six inches deep.
So what did it feel like when he stabbed you six inches deep?
Itachi skidded to a halt just short of a tree he had nearly run in to. He stopped and glared at Kisame, and then turned away again. Kisame sensed his chakra move towards his feet as the Uchiha made to jump, and stopped him. "Itachi," he said softly, taking a step towards his partner. Itachi pasted the best look of annoyance he could onto his face, but humored his partner by saying nothing. It was something Kisame had picked up over the years; one could tell if Itachi wanted you to speak if he looked at you. If he didn't even look away from what he was doing, that meant that he didn't give a damn and he didn't want to hear what you said. That Itachi had looked at him had granted him permission to speak, and Itachi guaranteed he would listen; at least, until he felt like leaving.
"Itachi, what is wrong with you?" Kisame growled. "Failing mission after mission, choosing to walk away from fights when there's more than a good chance we'll win, now running into trees?! Something's wrong, isn't it? Oh, don't try to deny it-something's up ad, as your partner, I am concerned. I don't want to have to be the one to tell Pein we lost you."
Itachi said nothing; instead, he sucked in a breath through his nose, and blew it out again just as softly. Still, in the dead silence of the forest, it must have sounded like a lion's roar. "Don't worry about it," Itachi finally said stoically. Kisame sighed, threw his hands up in the air, and then let them slap against his thighs as they fell.
"Same excuse, Itachi!" he growled. "I want the truth, and I want it now!"
"Just drop it!"
Wow. Kisame had never heard Itachi yell; not even raise his voice above the hardly-above-a-whisper level he usually spoke at. Itachi never really had to speak loudly: somehow, his voice just carried. And Itachi was just one of those people: whenever they spoke, you hung onto their every word. "Itachi," Kisame said, a bit more softly this time. "I'm beginning to think you get off on pain, because every time you fail a mission, it never seems to affect you! No matter how many times Pein hits you, no matter how many times he stabs you, cuts you, breaks you-it's like he never even touched you. And somehow, you heal yourself enough to walk, get out of there, come back looking like hell, and then just sleep for days. It's always the same, and I can't watch this anymore!"
Now it was Itachi's turn to be shocked. He had never heard Kisame string together that many words at once. It was like he had given a speech. Like that idiot president of America tried to do, and ended up screwing up his grammar so badly they quoted it on locker magnets. Except Kisame had somehow ended up much more eloquent than any authority figure, and it spoke to Itachi even more than the words he had said.
"Well, what if I do get off on pain?"
"Well, here's some!"
Itachi was caught completely unaware as Kisame's huge blue hand flashed out, catching him on the cheek. The force of the blow sent Itachi crumpling to the ground, spitting blood from a split lip and fighting the throbbing in his face. He just lay there for a moment, absorbing the shock of what had just happened.
"You got a boner now? You feel like getting' your rocks off? The hell, Itachi?! You're not like this, and Goddammit, I refuse to believe you are! You can't possibly ignore everything Pein does to you, and then try to tell me you like it!"
It seemed Itachi hadn't heard a word Kisame had said. Instead, he was slowly climbing to his feet, Sharingan active and spinning crazily. Even though his eyes always looked crazy, there was a certain gleam to them that led Kisame to believe he was suddenly in a very deep pile of shit.
"That was a bad…mistake."
Kisame felt chakra spike up, but refused to stand down. Itachi hadn't called upon the Mangekyou yet, but Kisame knew it wasn't long in coming. So, which would it be? The sun, the moon, or the mysterious third? Kisame wasn't backing down, either way: he would take whatever happened, and hold his tongue. Slapping Itachi like that had been a mistake, especially with the Uchiha already so pissed. And then piling on those insults? Probably not the smartest thing Kisame had ever done…
Itachi leapt away, and his chakra calmed.
Kisame was left standing, dumbfounded, as Itachi raced away, disappearing quickly into the trees and swiftly leaving Kisame behind. A short sigh of resignation, and Kisame was tailing him, just trying to figure out what had just happened.
Itachi's blunt, short, curt, dry, flat response had Pein raising an eyebrow. "You know what this means, don't you, Itachi?"
"And you don't care?"
Pein sighed softly, and stood up from behind his desk. He took the folder he was handed by Kisame, set it down, and then said, "Kisame, may I speak with Itachi privately?"
Speak with, or beat the shit out of?
"Of course, Pein-sama. Itachi, I'll see you upstairs."
I'll get the tourniquet out.
As soon as Kisame left, Itachi felt the pain of Pein's first strike. He was backhanded firmly into the wall, and Itachi felt a bruising grip strangle his neck. He ignored it, however, retreating deep into a corner of himself only he knew existed, and just curled up in a ball.
Let the games begin.
"Why do you let him do this?"
Itachi sat on the bathroom floor, still curled up in a ball, with Kisame sitting across from him, a towel in one hand and a roll of bandages in the other. Kisame gently dabbed at the blood on Itachi's porcelain skin with the towel, while the Uchiha just sat passively and let him do it. Kisame, while usually deferring to Itachi and his wishes, for some reason was adamant on cleaning Itachi up whenever Pein went off on him. Kisame finally sighed, and ran the towel under some cold water in the sink. He then returned to Itachi's side, wiping at the blood. He was surprisingly gentle for someone of his size and appearance-and personality-and he took care to clean all of the blood off the wounds before bandaging them. Itachi had never questioned why Kisame was so insistent upon cleaning him up; he was perfectly capable of doing it himself. But, for some reason, Itachi had submitted, and it had become almost a melancholy tradition between the two.
"Itachi?" Kisame's concerned eyes met Itachi's dull, lifeless ones. "Talk to me. Please."
Itachi shook his head, almost looking sad. Kisame sighed softly, and returned his attentions to Itachi's broken wrist. "Itachi? Come on."
Itachi shook his head again. This was another thing that worried him: Itachi refused to speak, often for weeks at a time, after Pein had blown up with him. But this time, the injuries were especially severe: a broken wrist, a dislocated shoulder, whiplash, a fractured neck vertebrae, several fractured spinal vertebrae, a fractured skull, a concussion, internal bleeding, a broken leg, half of his ribs were broken, and half of his blood had been lost. More muscle had been damaged by kunai than Kisame had seen even coming out of a war battle, and Itachi had been suspiciously skittish when Kisame first started working with him. Upon discovering the extent of Itachi's injuries (and wondering how the Uchiha managed to drudge up the willpower to even move, let alone stand and walk,) he had called Konan in to heal Itachi. She had taken care of all the bones that were broken, replenished his blood supply enough to calm his furiously beating heart, and all the ruptured organs, and by the time she was done, she had almost drained herself completely of chakra. Konan had known full well what happened, and no questions were asked.
Except the rhetorical, "My God, why does he do this?"
Itachi had been calm, despondent, and passive throughout the entire procedure, from the moment Konan touched him to the moment she left. Kisame had already given him the strongest painkillers possible without addiction or severe consequences, but he suspected they were merely dulling the edge of the pain.
He was rewarded with a glance.
"Come on, I need to know: why do you let him do this?"
Itachi's eyes suddenly seemed even sadder, beat down, trodden on, and kicked around. But, to Kisame's surprise, he spoke.
"Because…I love him."
Kisame felt his jaw hit the floor. And that was saying something, because he was close to eight feet tall! No explanation was necessary; and suddenly, it all fit together. "Oh…oh, no, Itachi, no!"
Itachi's eyes squeezed shut, as if trying to shut out the bitter truth. Kisame instinctively reached out, reaching for Itachi-he should be in the infirmary, not here, where he wouldn't be able to receive proper medical care-but Itachi lurched away from his hand, a small, choked sob escaping him. He rose shakily to his feet, and then staggered out of the room, clutching his cloak around his frail form and sluggishly making his way to his room. Kisame could hardly do anything but watch him walk away: Itachi, who he loved like a little brother. Itachi, who he would take a kunai for any day. Itachi, who he sometimes wanted to kill, but loved him all the same. Itachi, who might sometimes want to kill him, and maybe even try, but never go through with it because somewhere deep down, he returned those brotherly feelings. Itachi, who he never wanted to see like this-
Had been reduced to mere trash by a sadistic jackass who would never love him back.
Kisame felt his blood boil at the thought, and grudgingly admitted to himself that he had formed an attachment to Itachi. In a big way. But he had to say, it was justified: Itachi was just a kid, in this big grown-up world, and it had to be scary. He had taken it upon himself to show the snot-nosed brat around for a while-until he realized exactly who Itachi was. Then, he started to let Itachi call the shots. But now…now, he thought maybe it was his turn to take the reins.
Itachi was lying face down on his bed, skinny shoulders shaking, when Kisame found him.
Kisame had sat down next to him and waited a moment, just to make sure Itachi was okay with him there. Then, he slowly laid his hand on Itachi's shoulders, and began running it back and forth across the teen's slender shoulders. "Can you explain this?" he whispered. "All he's ever done is hurt you-"
"I don't understand it any more than you do."
Kisame sighed. "You can't tell him-"
Kisame sighed again, giving Itachi's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Get some rest," he said, "and then come and eat. I'll be checking on you; don't worry about it."
Itachi nodded, his raven locks spraying all of his back even more. Kisame decided to take what he had and cut his losses, and simply stood up and left.
"You can talk to me if you need to."
A/N: This was only supposed to be a one-shot, musing on how Itachi, for all his success, also has a tendency to fail. And then I started thinking about romance, and then came the second sentence, and then…this came out. Kind of reminds me of "What Hurts the Most" by rascal Flatts. Usually don't listen to them, but hey...whatever. Well, review.