Title: Vertigo

Series: Naruto (written May 2006)

Pairing: Itachi/Naruto

Summary: [Scenes from a hotel room] Itachi on stormy weather, fatalism, and Uzumaki Naruto. But not necessarily in that order.

Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi. So yeah, once upon a time (2006), I was really into ItaNaru, and wrote many, many (three) stories for it. I'm only reposting this one because it's the only one-shot. Plus it embarrasses me the least, so it wins.



"This is my truth, tell me yours."

(Aneurin Bevan)


When Itachi was very young, he was afraid of heights.

Nobody knows this because as soon as he became aware of his fear, he began spending all his time climbing onto any towering perch he could reach. On rooftops: sun-baked terra cotta warm and toasty under his naked toes, white-knuckled hands gripping the rugged edge to peer down below. Walking sideway up a tree: soft breeze kissing his hair playfully, the cool green shadow of dancing leaves looming above. Once on top of a telephone pole: precariously balanced at the crown of the world—where he belonged.

His acrophobia was a strange solitary weakness, so naturally he bit into it willingly and eagerly as one devoured an overripe fruit in late summer, the stinky-sweet juice dripping from cracked lip corners in generous streams. He climbed higher and higher, crawled further and further out each time, skirting around the sudden drop where his vision would cloud and the waves of vertigo would spiral upward into his skull and spin, spin, spin. His control was perfect even then, the chakra tendrils flowing smoothly and moderately from the flats of his feet, a safeguard against rushing danger. He never fell but once, and when he did there was no one to catch him. His body flipped in mid-air, rotating axis in a swirl of automated mechanism, and he landed on his feet and felt his leg break with a delicious crunch. But even though he had to wear a cast for a week afterwards, he was proud.

After all, being caught would have been a bit like being hung: a noose around your neck.

They say people never grow out of their phobia, but Itachi has never done what other people do, so just as naturally, his fear dissipated before his seventh birthday when he graduated from the Academy. By the time he is twenty-one, there is no height he has not scaled, no gaping abyss he has not flown over with a light spring of heels. Not once, standing over the deepest of chasms, has he felt the same dizzy maelstrom of those diaphanous childhood days.

"Kisame knows," Naruto says between a yawn and a frown, messy head already half-buried in the crook of his arm, feet resting on the pillows.

Itachi has his back to him, and he can feel Naruto's gaze on his bare skin like syrup dripping slowly onto his spine. The room is tinted a fluorescent white-blue; all the windows are shut. Outside, the weather is breaking after a three-day tantrum. A change in the wind brings rolling black clouds and rain that falls in cool fat droplets, hissing on hot dry concrete like a sigh.

It's one of those afternoons you just want to lounge around naked in bed, Naruto says, and what he says he does: sprawling arms and legs akimbo across Itachi's bed, a thin blanket pulled over his waist. His clothes are strewed about the room in a haphazard trail—a shirt on the door knob, one sock peeping out from under the bed—because Itachi doesn't like to waste time and Naruto has awful aim. The non-tension in the flow of his shoulder blades is deceptive.

"Did you hear what I said?"

"I heard you," Itachi mutters distractedly, even though he is not at all. He is not in the habit of idling about when there are things to be done, mission reports to complete, so there he's sitting at the Formica-top desk the hotel staff managed to squeeze into one corner at his request, shirt draped over the back of the chair, and in his hands is a sheaf of hotel paper. It's the kind you always find in these mediocre establishments: cheap grainy texture dyed over in blue, or pink, or maybe aquamarine. The hotel's name is printed on the bottom-right corner: curly text, nondescript message along the lines of "We Hope You Enjoy Your Stay" or "From the Desk of". Kisame is usually responsible for keeping up correspondence with headquarters, but today his partner has excused himself right after lunch and disappeared into the blurred mass of people (bodies), fading to oblivion at the height of noon.

The trapped heat in this room is pulsing and palpitating, a tangible heaviness on his skin. Sweat beads its way down his back, collects at his temples. The ball-point pen he is using keeps clogging up and sputtering ink onto his fingers at odd intervals like blood oozing from a fresh wound; he smears indigo half-prints on the margin of the sheet that smell vaguely of crushed violet. Rain patters on the shutters, a constant tapitee-tap-tap.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Naruto pushing himself up with his elbows and swinging his long legs over the edge of the bed, the blanket pooling suggestively at his waist, catching on sharp pelvic bones.

Saying: "He knows. He chewed me out something awful about it this morning. Never heard him say so many words at once before, ever."

Saying: "Um, do you want to know what he told me?"

These attempts at striking up a conversation are rather lame, somewhat pathetic, and Itachi allows them to slink away into the dense somnolence of the room. Presently, Naruto emits a frustrated noise and flops back onto the bed.

More recently, Itachi has come to think of this boy, this prisoner of his, as something of an anomaly, a chimaera standing five foot seven with one sock and sleepy eyes. He was beautiful once, a blazing sunburst of righteous anger (hot white), his obnoxious boy-voice a devastating clarion call. Itachi had seen then the man he would grow up into, and years later, he learned he had been right. The man-who-had-been-the-boy stood at the gate of his (their) village, quieter now but not necessarily wiser, and his beauty was intense, accentuated by the crutch of tragedy, as he surrendered himself in exchange for the safety of his home and simultaneously announced his death wish.

Yet somehow, at some point in between his capture, torment, and subsequent hostage status, Naruto has begun to regress, growing smaller-but-not-quite, until he is what stands before Itachi today—not a boy, not a man, but a sort of elfin man-child. He vacillates between blue surliness and rosy mirth in lighting finger-snaps (snap snap), talking too much and saying nothing at all. He eats lackadaisically, washing down the meager portions with cups after cups of too-sweet tea, drinking in long, thirsty gulps that spill sticky trails on his chin and Itachi's fingers when he touches him later.

So perhaps Naruto is not a sunburst at all, but a sunflower: light-starved and withering away into the tea-rings his coasterless cup leaves on the table top.

Itachi sometimes wonders what he would find if he were to peel back the layers of Naruto's flesh. He is light and undecided, like a butterfly in confusion, afloat, so perhaps his bones are nothing but pockets of air. While he's at it, Itachi thinks he will also take hold of Naruto's heart and sink his teeth into it, just to see if the blood he'll draw will be red or black, bitter or sweet. He tried counting the number of Naruto's vertebrae once, memorizing the shape of thin ribs with the palms of his hands. That was the first time he pinned the boy to a wall, in a hotel room just like this one, and Naruto had opened the red whirlpool of his mouth then and said "yes, yes, yes" instead of "no, no, no", and that in itself is a kind of death wish.

Naruto rolls to his knees again. He is bored too easily: it seems like nothing manages to keep him interested for long these days. Bunching the blanket at his hips like a sarong, he saunters across the room until he is half-leaning over Itachi, breathing too loudly, shamelessly reading over his shoulder. Itachi can feel the heat emanating from his body; it is a shade more palpable than the general sultriness of the room.

"I-ta-chi," Naruto sing-songs: the tip of the tongue venturing out to tap once on the teeth at the second syllable before retreating into the dark cavern of the mouth. The trochaic lilt of the word is spoken with a little too much familiarity, honorific nowhere in sight, and that is something Itachi is not used to. He hasn't come this far to be so casually disregarded; his name should demand a certain degree of respect, but Naruto has always taken too much liberty with it. It's not that he doesn't understand. He just can't help being confused when somewhere along the line, don't touch me, don't look insolent, don't speak unless you're spoken to has translated into sleep naked in my bed.

"What are you writing?" Naruto whispers, and with this, he presses the point of his chin into Itachi's shoulder, the coarse wisps of his bristly hair prickling Itachi's cheek like pine-needles. He slings an arm over in an attempt snatch the letter out from under Itachi's grasp, and as he does so, his elbow lands onto Itachi's forearm. Itachi thinks his skin has become hypersensitive at the point of contact. He is irkfullly aware of the exchange of body heat, the erratic movement of molecules, the mutual death of skin cells, and really, this has gone far enough.

He opens his mouth to tell the boy (man, child, daemon) off, to sternly remind him of the importance of observing the status quo, but at that moment there comes a ripping roar of thunder (the storm is picking up) and the lights go flickering, plunging the room into a hairsplit darkness.

When everything is once more illuminated, Naruto's eyes are sparkling shards of quicksilver, and their halcyon silence is saying a thousand words.

Saying: 'Why should I be afraid?'

Saying: 'What have I got to lose now?'

And then, without warning, he breaks into a peal of tinklebell laughter. He does this so often, gets caught up in a paroxysm of mirth at all times of day for no apparent reason (why should he laugh?). He laughs during sex too, the sound echoing in the hush of the night in sharp, straight lines, disquieting and almost unearthly. Sometimes, Itachi would flatten his hand against the column of Naruto's throat to feel the ripples of laughter reverberate through the heart of his palm, thrumming wildly in his bones, and when he comes the release is blind and intense. In the afterglow(math), Naruto wilts on his back, mouth open and gasping, as if his soul might at any second escape through it just like any other breath.

When Itachi asks him about it, he would grin foolishly and say in perfect seriousness:

"Laughter and death are pretty much the same thing. They're like lovers, searching for happiness in the hollow of each other's empty mouths. So until I die, I'll keep laughing."

Of course, this makes no sense at all.

But cheap melodramatics aside, Itachi concedes there is some genius in this calm acceptance. After all, he may not know all that much about laughter, but he is well-acquainted with death, and with this knowledge, he is absolutely, completely certain that there is nothing to hope for, no hidden treasure to be found between the sordid folds of hotel sheets.

In Itachi's life, there is only one truth, and this truth is: strength.

When he comes to attention again, Naruto is already flouncing away, the sway of his hips a languorous rhythm. He drops onto the bed in a flurry of white cotton blankets, and begins to monitor the room with sullen eyes through the pale gold of his fringes, exchanging hysteria for lethargic melancholy. Itachi turns back to his letter.

He remembers suddenly the creatures called vampires he's read about in some storybook or other. Gaijin fairytales, he has always thought, burlesque and histrionic as the cultures that spawned them. But now he sees the stories in a different light, and really, they're all about sharp white teeth, blood, and addiction. A drop is all it takes, poison coated in nectar, deadly ambrosia; it is like a wine that dilutes the bloodstream, drip, drip, drip and then madness comes.

Another crash of thunder, and out go the lights.

Immediately, darkness crawls over his skin like an insidiously cold blanket, and he thinks: This is a tomb.

"Hey, hey, it's no big deal," Naruto's voice rings out, a bright, luminous chime. "Look, it's still light outside. I'll bet this will help."

And even though Itachi is fast, he is in all honesty no match for Naruto's spontaneous bursts of energy. As such, he has no time to curb his premonition of disaster and remind Naruto exactly why it isn't the most brilliant idea to open a third-story window in the middle of a thunderstorm.

A gush of blind wind rips across the flung-open shutters and the sheaf of hotel papers is scattered wildly about the room.

"Oops," says Naruto, looking thoroughly unchastened. The blanket must have slipped off his waist in his mad dash; his skin-clad form stands framed in the electric sky, hair a cotton-candy tangle in the wild wind. He leans lightly against the window sill, naked hips jutted, face half-turned to face the tempest outside. A drop of rain water trickles sensuously down the path from eyebrow to cheek bone to lip corner.

Itachi studies the thatched patterns of his palms, stained a deep indigo. His letter is ruined anyway.

Slowly, he gets to his feet and steps over the smattering of paper (pink, blue, aquamarine). Naruto regards him with cautiously lidded eyes, cocking his head mock-quizzically, and Itachi knows he's trying to be coy. He hooks his arms around Naruto's waist, and the coy look disappears, to be replaced by an impish glint of sharp, sharp teeth (but there are no vampires in Japan).

He traces his fingertips along the line of Naruto's jaws, laves his tongue down his clavicle, and Naruto tastes the same all over—a warm, russet cinnamon spice—but there is no happiness in his hollowed-out mouth.

Lips. Skin. Fingers. Tongues. Of course, this is never enough, because this is them. So then, it is condom from the bedside table, and lubricant from a weapon pouch.

"How good is your chakra control?" Itachi asks. His voice is a mumbling sound bite on a bad radio, scratchy and full of static.


"Hang on to something," he instructs, and while Naruto's eyes are still widening in surprise, he clasps his hands onto Naruto's hips and hoists him onto the window ledge. For a moment, Naruto seems confused, and then the crooked glass smile is back. He throws his legs around Itachi's waist, swings both arms out in two wide arcs, and latches onto the walls at his sides, the tips of his fingers glowing electric blue. He is ever so obvious. Itachi is much more subtle, and chakra spills from his feet into the cheap linoleum tiles seamlessly—flawless control. As always, a safeguard. And with that, they fall into the sky.

There is a sense of exhibitionism, he thinks hazily, in having sex on a window sill, leaning halfway out into the pouring rain, where any voyeuristic eyes might witness their tryst. But the deluge is coming down in relentless white sheets, and any and all stragglers are rushing away quickly, their heads folded to protect themselves from the cold assault. The danger of falling is also a false veneer—they are both shinobi first and human second—but it's the sentiment that counts.

With a feral growl, Naruto gives up all pretense and flings his arms around Itachi's neck, fingers twining tightly into his unbound hair. When he buries his head into the juncture of Itachi's shoulder, Itachi thinks he can feel his laughter pulsating through his skin, and its shuddering tinkle is stronger and thicker than the stabs of pleasure creeping up his spine. He pins Naruto like a butterfly, and they are leaning out far, so far (spinspinspin), and freezing rain is beating down their faces. Their bodies are tangled up like a mesh; Itachi senses the undulation of laughter bubbling up beneath the plane of Naruto's chest.

One day, he thinks, this marriage between laughter and death will be dissolved. That will be the day that this creature under his hands, this absurd creature with the quick laugh and the ageless haunted eyes, will dissolve too and flutter away into the grave he has dug for himself. And Itachi will go on—that is his life, his choice, his destiny—and there will be no sentimentality involved, because they both knew all along there was never any hope to begin with.

Today is not that day.

A blade of lightning slices cleanly through the dark clouds, and for a half-formed sliver of a second, their bodies are illuminated and frozen in blue-grey, abstract. Thunder rumbles in the background. Naruto's nails dig into the back of Itachi's neck as their dance grows more urgent. Almost there.

When he was young, Itachi was afraid of heights.

By the time he was seven, his acrophobia had cured itself.

At twenty-one, he is at the top of the world.

But at this instance, dangling thirty feet from the ground with rain falling from above and heat radiating from below, defying gravity with the core of his strength and Naruto's laughter ringing in his ears, Itachi thinks he is riding high on a wave of vertigo so overpowering he feels like he's hurtling down headfirst, and for the first time in his life, he has to struggle to maintain the constant flow of adhesive chakra. And vertigo is, after all, not so much the fear of falling but the voice of the emptiness calling from below, the desire to fall against which his better judgment fights.

One final thrust, and Naruto is shuddering beneath him, and the world is fading out in a flash of filmy white (body, mind: divorced).

As Itachi's vision clears, the sky is lit up with lightning, and Naruto throws back his head on cue with the thunder and howls up a storm.