She was supposed to be a present. A well-meaning, albeit liquor-inspired present, but a present nonetheless. Itachi stood, his face a perfect stone, while Kisame pushed the prostitute forward.
"No," Itachi said. Kisame was about to protest when the younger man turned, his cloak billowing as he left. Kisame turned to the prostitute and shrugged.
Waste not, want not, as they say.
There was precious little that Kisame knew about his partner: that he slept irregular hours, and that he preferred not to kill. The rest was all speculation. "It was a gift," Kisame said. Itachi was delicately using his chopsticks while Kisame huffed in front of him. "In all the years we've been together, I've not once seen you with a woman. I just thought I'd go ahead and help you with that problem of yours."
"And what problem would that be?"
"Your woman problem. Or should I say lack of woman problem," Kisame said. "Come on, Itachi-san, it's shameful! Being a part of the Akatsuki, and still a fucking virgin-"
"You would be wrong," Itachi said. He folded his napkin into precise squares, then proceeded to put away his bowl. Kisame gaped.
"When did you have sex?" Kisame asked. Itachi didn't answer. "What, back in Konoha?"
Kisame searched his partner's face, waiting for some flicker of emotion: irritation, exasperation. Maybe even a little bit of anger. There was none. Kisame snorted. "Let me guess. You fucked a girl and then you killed her. Right?"
"Yes," Itachi said, quietly. To anyone else, Itachi's face betrayed nothing. But Kisame was his partner. He knew better. "I abstain because I do not wish to sully her memory. You would do well not to pry."
Kisame watched as Itachi quietly put away the rice, then folded his hands back into the pockets of his hakama.
Kisame had no qualms about being a missing-nin. He enjoyed the freedom, the money, and most of all the reputation that came with it. Kisame liked to be feared. It made him feel alive. He wasn't sure if he could say the same about his partner, however.
"A kid?" Kisame stared as Itachi stood, face as still as imperial porcelain, as he ushered in a crying whining brat from the last village over. "The hell are we supposed to do with a kid?"
"We give him safe passage to the next village over. It will not take more than a day."
Kisame was about to complain when Itachi gave him that very special look that brooked no argument. Itachi was the stronger of the two. If he wanted, he could eyeball Kisame into another dimension. Kisame figured he shouldn't risk it.
"Fine," Kisame said. "But don't blame me if Samehada comes swinging."
"Noted," Itachi said.
As it turned out, the kid was some kind of orphan. Something about bandits killing his parents or whatever. Kisame didn't really care. "Oi," Kisame said. "Brat."
The kid looked up at him, wide-eyed and terrified. Kisame leered. "Want to see my sword?"
"Enough," Itachi said. He knelt down beside the child and offered him a bowl of rice. Kisame watched as Itachi seemed to transform into a completely different person. He was smiling. This was something new.
"I bet he'd taste good," Kisame said. He was bored now, leaning against a tree and watching as Itachi played house. "How about we barbecue him? Eh?"
The kid clung to Itachi's leg.
"Hey, kid." Kisame's eyes narrowed. "Did you know your friend's a murderer?"
"Kisame." Itachi's eyes flashed. Kisame grinned.
"Killed his whole family, and you know what? He just might kill you, too."
They found a washer woman the next village over, and the kid disappeared, the crowd swallowing him whole. The entire trip Itachi said nothing. Kisame wondered if he had finally crossed a line. It was evening when Itachi finally spoke.
"Why did you say that?" Itachi said. Kisame looked up.
"What? So you're speaking to me, now?" Kisame said. Itachi's eyes narrowed.
"Why did you tell him about my past?" Itachi said.
"Tch. I don't know. I thought it would be funny," Kisame said. "Look, Itachi-san, I didn't mean to piss you off. I just wanted to give that damn brat a scare, is all."
"I see." Itachi settled beside him, pulling his cloak tight around his arms.
They sat silently for a moment. Then Itachi finally spoke.
"He reminded me of my brother," Itachi said. "When he was young, that is."
"Oh." Kisame poked the ground with a stick, feeling slightly guilty.
And that's when he started to wonder.
Kisame's checklist of things he knew were growing:
Itachi was not a virgin, but he was practically like one. And despite outward appearances, he didn't mind kids. He was not violent and he hated to kill. So why the hell would someone like that kill his clan?
Itachi's explanation was bullshit. "Measure your capacity? What, like a goddamn thermometer?"
Kisame was drunk (again), and Itachi was frowning. He pried the bottle of sake from Kisame's fist and helped Kisame stand. "Who forced you?" Kisame asked.
"Forced me to do what?"
"To, you know. Kill. Everyone." Kisame squinted as the shapes seemed to blur and shift together. It made him vaguely seasick. "You're like a goddamn Boy Scout, you know that?" Kisame said.
"I've been told as much."
"You don't even have sex," Kisame said. Itachi sighed, then slung him over his shoulder.
When Kisame woke up, hours later and with a raging headache, he added "patient" to his list, and wondered vaguely what the clan did to piss Itachi off.
Kisame was jealous of Itachi's skills. He never missed when he threw his kunai, always catching the target squarely in the center.
They were running again. Hunter-nin were hot on his trail and Kisame was struggling to keep pace. "Shit! Itachi!"
The younger man turned. His eyes flashed crimson; the men around them fell like leaves.
For obvious reasons, Kisame counted himself among the lucky. If it were Deidara, there would be a ham-fisted attempt at Blowing Shit Up; Sasori would probably just leave and who the fuck knows what Tobi would do, he'd probably just laugh like an idiot and clap his hands.
Itachi was good with kunai. Insanely good. Itachi threw kunai better than most men could breathe.
They were trailing the jinchuuriki from the mist when Kisame heard Itachi cough. Loud and wet, and falling to his knees. "Oi! Itachi-"
"I am fine." Itachi's face was pale and his skin was clammy, and Kisame knelt beside him, pressing a palm to Itachi's forehead.
"Shit. You're burning up," Kisame said. Itachi's eyes fluttered closed and Kisame hoisted his partner up, moving him to higher ground.
"My bag," Itachi said. Kisame turned and found the bag, digging through its contents. A half dozen bottles of herbal medication shoved in the corner.
"Itachi, what the hell-"
"The medication," Itachi said. He coughed, violently. Kisame watched, helpless as Itachi plied healing chakra to his lungs.
It was the first time Kisame had seen Itachi ill, but apparently he had been sick for years. "Why didn't you say anything?" Kisame said. Itachi smiled weakly.
"I did not want to worry you," Itachi said. Kisame snorted.
"Bullshit. You thought I'd fucking bolt."
"Wouldn't you?" Itachi watched him, evenly. "I am a liability," Itachi said. "With my affliction, I could die in the midst of battle-"
"You mean a knife to the gut can't do that, too?" Kisame said.
Itachi smiled. "I suppose I am too used to us winning," Itachi said.
Kisame was no idiot. He knew when a man was ashamed.
And so Kisame did his best not to make too big a fuss when Itachi coughed, instead sneaking in cough drops to his pack or pushing an extra bowl of soup his way. Itachi for his part always seemed grateful for Kisame's thoughtfulness.
"Drink it," Kisame said. He pushed the tea toward Itachi. Itachi did; if he were the sort of man to make a face, he would.
"It is bitter," Itachi said. Kisame grunted.
"It's from the mist. It helps with colds."
"This isn't a cold," Itachi said. Kisame rolled his eyes.
"Whatever. Drink it," Kisame said. "We can't 'hide in the darkness' with you hacking up a lung."
Kisame figured the Akatsuki didn't really need to know.
"Giddy," wasn't quite the description Kisame would use to describe his partner when they found out Sasuke was the main attraction at the Chuunin exams, but if Itachi didn't have such exquisite control over his emotions, Kisame was pretty sure he'd be grinning like an idiot right about now.
"It is as to be expected," Itachi said. His eyes were dancing. Itachi always smiled with his eyes. "He will make the Uchiha proud."
Kisame wanted to point out that Itachi was the only other living Uchiha around, but he didn't want to spoil his partner's mood.
That was the thing that bothered Kisame the most: it was generally common knowledge that Itachi had spared his little brother to take his eyes. The other Akatsuki believed this to be a given, but Kisame had his doubts. He didn't see Itachi as the type of man to covet what he didn't have. "Why don't you just kill him now?" Kisame said. "Get him while he's young and get it over with."
Itachi's face darkened. "He is not yet strong enough," Itachi said. "If I am to take his eyes, he must be stronger."
But Kisame couldn't see it. Itachi was too soft for that sort of thing. Granted, his powers were considerably greater than Kisame's - or the other Akatsuki's, for that matter - but if Uchiha Itachi were anything, he wasn't selfish. Stealing little brother's eyeballs? Selfish.
Kisame also noted how Itachi became considerably more cruel whenever his brother was around. Taunting him. Tormenting him. It was a universal rule that whatever cruelty and malice a man had, it would be a pervasive thing: Hidan's religiosity colored everything he did, as did Deidara's art and Tobi's ineptitude. Itachi was not cruel.
"Oi," Kisame said. "How come you always pick on him, anyway?"
"On whom?" Itachi's eyes flicked upward briefly.
"That kid. Your brother. Christ, what is he, twelve?"
"You are lecturing me on the finer points of brotherhood?" Itachi seemed amused. "Kisame. I would have thought you of all people would understand."
"Yeah, because of the two of us, I'm the one who's the callous bastard," Kisame said. "That kid's got it out for you. If you don't watch it, he might come calling your name."
"I plan on it," Itachi said.
"For his eyes?"
"Yes," Itachi said.
Kisame was doubtful. The other Akatsuki members shrugged it off.
"He wants the Eternal Mangekyo, so what?" Deidara said. "His voodoo eyes aren't good enough."
Kisame figured it best not to say anything more.
It wasn't until after the Third Hokage was murdered that Kisame began to glean the truth. "Why?" Kisame asked. Itachi paced, agitated, as Kisame watched confused. "I don't understand, why do you need to speak to them?"
"Because I must." Itachi's face was pinched. "I must make sure my brother is okay."
"Why wouldn't he be?" Kisame asked. Itachi didn't answer. "Itachi, dammit. I'm your partner. If we're going to expose ourselves, I deserve to know why!"
Itachi's eyes flicked upward. His mouth was a tight line. "Kisame. I will answer any questions of myself that you ask. But do not ask me this," Itachi said. "Please."
He had never heard Itachi say please before. Kisame nodded, mutely.
After their altercation in Konoha, after Kakashi flashed his sharingan and Gai insulted Kisame by not remembering his name, they made their way back to the outskirts of the city, where Kisame started a fire and sat squarely on a log. "Itachi," Kisame said. "Talk."
Itachi blinked, owlishly. "Sorry?"
"You said I could ask you anything I like, right?" Kisame's eyes narrowed. "Well I have a few questions."
"Fine. What are they?"
"Why'd you kill them?" Kisame asked. Itachi stiffened, visibly.
"I've killed a lot of people, Kisame. You must be more specific."
"The Uchiha," Kisame said. "Your kin. Why?"
"I have already told you why," Itachi said.
"And I say bullshit," Kisame said. "You cry in your sleep, did you know that? Fucking pisses me off, crying like a goddamn baby. And don't think I can't hear you," Kisame said. "I sleep in the same room."
"My apologies," Itachi said. His hand was shaking. Slowly Itachi closed his eyes.
"What if I told you it was an accident?" Itachi said.
"Tch. That's some accident," Kisame said.
"Then what if I told you I killed them in my sleep?" Itachi said.
Kisame froze. Itachi was looking at him, dark eyes probing silently.
"You're shitting me," Kisame said, but he wasn't sure. Itachi said nothing. Slowly he tossed another branch into the fire.
The thing about the sharingan is, it made its users extraordinarily good liars.
Kisame reminded himself never to play poker with him, since he would probably lose.
"Kisame," Itachi said, and Kisame turned. Itachi was standing at the cliffside, watching as his younger brother and his team leapt over riverbanks trying to find him. "Today is the day Sasuke and I will face each other: I will need you to stall the others. Do you think you can do that?"
"Of course," Kisame said. He grinned, then clapped Itachi on the shoulder. "You must be happy! All those years, waiting for that brat. Now you get to use his eyes!"
"Perhaps," Itachi said. Kisame didn't like the way he said it. "You are right to say I am happy, however."
When Madara finally revealed himself, and when he showed Kisame the body, Kisame was shocked, to say the least. Itachi's dead eyes were staring up at the sky, body bruised and battered and blood at the corner of his mouth.
Kisame stood over the body, awkwardly, while Madara sharpened his kunai. "You let the brat win," Kisame said, finally. "You always sucked when it came to kids."
Itachi's eyes were still open. Clumsily, Kisame reached a large hand and closed them, wondering when the hell Itachi started looking so frail.
Behind him, Madara shifted, readjusting his mask and slipping his kunai back into its holster.