A/N: Hello there! To those dear souls who follow me for ItaHina goodness...sorry, everyone needs a break once in a while :) I promise I'm working on other things! Really!
Sometimes it just strikes me anew how very young Itachi is, and in many strange ways, how innocent. Thinking led to writing, and writing led to...well, this. I wrote it as one-sided KisaIta, but it can be read as non-pairing and may in fact make more sense that way.
I would really, really, REALLY appreciate feedback on this, because it's the first time I've written anything that's not ItaHina, and I'm not sure if it's any good at all.
This is AU, non-ninja world. Enjoy!
The handshake is what disorients Kisame--a firm, unhurried handshake from the slip of a boy standing in front of him, large dark eyes unblinking, wearing a private-school uniform and telegraphing all the signs of no older than fifteen, too young, but Kisame's already too far gone to notice them and he returns the handshake with all the camaraderie he'd give to one of his own peers of twenty-seven.
"This is Itachi Uchiha," says Pein. "He'll be assisting us with tonight's job at the Madeleine."
"He looks thirteen," says Sasori. "What's he going to do? Kick them in the knees?"
Itachi says nothing, simply observes them with those incredible eyes and lets them continue their bickering above his head, as if he has no need to defend himself or vouch for his reliability at all. The light from the uncovered lightbulb falls particularly harshly on the planes of his face, which is bruise-pale and wan and not like a criminal's should be, not at all. Kisame doesn't know what to think, looking at that face.
"Get him jacked in, Kisame," says Pein. He complies and shepherds the boy out of the dark room, with its stink of cigarettes and sex, and as he fastens the thin wire of the headset behind Itachi's ear he feels the boy's pulse jump in the side of his neck.
"Hey, it's okay," he tells him. "It's just a break-and-enter. Don't worry about it."
Itachi blinks, long dark lashes casting further shadows on a pale cheek, and then he says, "I do not worry."
Kisame doesn't know what to say to that, so he lets Itachi think whatever he wants and concentrates on making sure the headset is secure in the nook between Itachi's ear and his jawbone. His skin is pearly, almost translucent when he's directly under the light, but there's a rose-colored patch just under the left side of his jaw that makes Kisame draw his hand back.
"From a chin-rest," says Itachi, and he sounds almost amused.
"I am a violinist."
This latest piece of information confirms Kisame's suspicions that this thin-skinned private-school student is a bizarre addition to their group, especially as this job at the Madeleine Hotel has been giving Pein ulcers for five months now and whatever skills anyone could possibly need to pull it off are already more than well-represented within the seven of them. But it's not his job to think too hard about it, so he doesn't. He leads Itachi back into the room, where the rest of them are adjusting their own headsets and making the minute repairs on their equipment that they won't have time to make as the night wears on. Pein glances at Itachi and immediately says, "Take that off."
Kisame is surprised until he realizes Pein is simply referring to Itachi's deep green blazer, with its very distinctive embroidered leaf on the left pocket. Itachi nods and removes it. Underneath, he has on a crisp white shirt and a silk tie, which he tightens precisely before accepting a thick black coat from Pein.
"It would be ridiculous to blow this just because someone recognized that Konoha uniform," snaps Sasori, and Kisame laughs, although it isn't particularly funny.
Itachi Uchiha does not laugh, or converse, or confirm his orders. He tucks his hair into the jacket and remains quiet as the group rides to the Madeleine, and he is still quiet when they enter the lobby of the hotel and the heist begins. He is so quiet that Kisame wonders if perhaps he's nervous, so he makes the mistake of clapping his hand on one narrow shoulder as the boy perches on a barstool, mutely surveying a concierge.
"Leave him alone, Kisame," says Pein sharply. "He's working."
Kisame is about to ask what the hell kind of work he's talking about when Itachi blinks, turns to Pein, and scribbles down eight key-codes on a cardboard coaster. They're key-codes Sasori's been trying to get for months, and Kisame's sure they must be wrong.
Pein looks at them and back up at Itachi, and for the first time the boy offers a sentence: "It is unwise of her to type them where people can see."
And then Kisame finds out what Itachi Uchiha has to contribute to the job--his astounding eyesight, which can discern the movement of keys on a keyboard from more than a hundred paces, or watch twenty bellboys at once from a position on a balcony overlooking the lobby. For the rest of the night, Itachi remains seated and directs them in his toneless voice--Left there; you are being tailed, Kakuzu; stay put, Sasori--as an entire squadron of camera-equipped security guards couldn't. Kisame obeys his orders unthinkingly, because it's just so incredibly surreal--the fifteen-year-old, if he is indeed fifteen, with his wide-open eyes and closed-shut voice and the best heist they've had in years, really, all courtesy of a private-school student with skin like the surface of milk.
When the night ends, Itachi takes his cut and disappears without a word of warning to any of them; he leaves the way he came, umbrella slicing the night downpour to curtains as he wends his way home across rain-slick neon streets.
It's hard to ignore the scything rush of desire that cuts through the base of Kisame's stomach, but he shunts it aside. He's a professional, after all, and he isn't easily distracted. A violinist, for god's sakes.
Still, he feels strangely bereft, until he realizes Itachi's forgotten his uniform blazer.
The address Pein gives him is an iron-gated private-school on the far side of the city, where the highways have already begun their slow disintegration into the network of roads that lead to the unblemished part of the state. The city festers behind him as he pulls into the parking lot and gives his identification and reasons for entering to the security guard at the gate--this is laughable, really, but as Kisame sees his name on the register with the name Itachi Uchiha beside it, he thinks it isn't so bad; it's maybe even a bit logical, if you've got someone to see.
Itachi apparently received Pein's call and he's sitting to the side of a wide quadrangle, in the shelter of an ivy-covered stone archway that looks like something out of one of the guidebooks Kisame tossed away when he was a student himself. He looks up, and Kisame feels extraneous when he sees that Itachi has another blazer on, clearly not missing anything. He's holding a textbook in one hand and a red ink pen in the other, and when Kisame approaches he stands up courteously, with one finger still in the crack of his book.
"You forgot this the other night," says Kisame, handing the blazer over. He'd meant to say something else first, but now it just seems ridiculous; he doesn't belong here any more than Itachi belongs in Pein's rank, dim-lit room under the city center, and they both know it. The alien setting begins to reek with a sense of claustrophobia. Kisame can feel it, an almost tangible pulse behind his eyes.
Itachi accepts the blazer and thanks him without a single wasted movement, all one fluid motion, and then he eyes him through and through with those dark eyes.
"Would you like to see the school?" he asks, and suddenly the school, with its frowning security guards and miles and miles of ivy-covered stone buildings, is a place Kisame wants to be.
Itachi leads him across the sunny quadrangle and under some of the stone arches, past red-brick buildings and statues of gods Kisame doesn't recognize, but all Kisame sees is supple white fingers as they stretch towards monuments in precise indication, and those eyes as they flicker up to meet his between explanations. He doesn't say anything back, and Itachi simply murmers dates or names that no one really cares about, but there's sunlight everywhere, even filamenting the edges of the leaves into unvarnished brilliance, so Kisame feels as if his senses are full without words, as if he is part of the scene and the setting and can bask in its brightness as long as he needs without saying anything at all. The silence is so full that it doesn't seem like any silence Kisame has ever known. It could be some kind of beautiful, he tells himself, and as he turns over the words in his mind, it is.
From time to time they pass other students, who give Kisame strange looks but nod and smile and wave to Itachi as they pass him on the track or the cobblestoned path to the academic buildings. They look different from the students Kisame remembers from his school days--these children are well-fed and bird-boned, with jewel-toned eyes and bright snappy voices like firecrackers in the thawing air. A girl with hair the color of gum reaches up to wrap her arms around Itachi, asking him to tell Sasuke something, and he nods gravely without returning her embrace.
"Sasuke?" asks Kisame when she leaves.
"My younger brother," says Itachi, and Kisame feels light, light as air, because he wasn't owed an explanation and he received one nonetheless. It's a benediction, and like all benedictions it will be stowed away, to warm him with its memory on the long ride back to the city.
There are more jobs--another break-in, a petty-cash robbery, an electronic money transfer at which Itachi sits to the side of Sasori's computer and makes calculations faster than any of them can follow, his voice laying down facts with unquestionable authority as Sasori rushes to fill the screen with the steadily mounting numbers. Afterwards they open a bottle of champagne and pass it amongst themselves in an assortment of cracked mugs and old takeout cups, but Itachi declines and accepts water from Konan instead. He sips quietly from a clean glass as they argue over percentages, and when they're finished, he takes his cut once again and vanishes in complete silence, as he does after every job.
There are more walks at Itachi's school after Kisame's finished with his day-job, his lowly position at the city waterworks, and sometimes when he shows up at the iron gates he's still wearing his blue maintenance uniform. The students give him odd sideways looks, but Itachi doesn't so much as blink, and knowing what he does about his omniscient eyesight, Kisame is grateful.
There are meetings with others--Itachi doesn't seem to have friends, but he has a younger brother, and Kisame watches in bemusement as his entire face changes when Sasuke is around. Itachi smiles. He cracks jokes, ruffles Sasuke's hair. And the brat, who seems like any other arrogant prep-school ankle-biter, acquires the status of fairytale in Kisame's mind, simply because of what he does to Itachi.
There are these things, but there are also times when Itachi does something that jars Kisame out of the comfortable routine they've fallen into; when he'll crack open a textbook in the middle of a job and test himself on figures for an exam the next day; when he brings his violin case to a meeting and takes it with him on the metro as he goes straight to orchestra practice; when one day, he comes to Pein's room in a sweaty lacrosse uniform and simply falls asleep during a briefing, head pillowed on Kisame's shoulder in a way that would undoubtedly embarrass him were he awake.
That's the day Itachi gets clipped, bullet across the knee as they're fleeing a heist where they'd been expected, and a gang in wait surprises them with hacked-off pistols and cherry bombs in a deserted parking garage on the Lower East Side.
"The fuck is wrong with you?" Kisame asks afterwards, winding gauze around the injury as Itachi observes him calmly and bites his lip against the pain. They're sitting in the room Kisame hates, with its rank smell and its dingy brown light. Kisame doesn't know how to deal with Itachi other than reprimand him for his carelessness, and, although he won't ever say it, for the way his head felt as he slept, light and mortal and fallible and young against Kisame's chest.
"I apologize," says Itachi, and that's all he says, but it's one walk too many over the border to indifference, and Kisame isn't letting him get away with that. Itachi never gets hit; with his large unnatural eyes he can always see exactly what's coming before anyone else does.
"You haven't been getting any sleep lately, or what?"
Itachi closes his eyes. The surge of desire that Kisame feels so often around Itachi comes again, but it's different this time; changed and redefined somehow, until he doesn't quite recognize it. He wants to put his fingers over Itachi's eyes and somehow will them into sleep. He wants Itachi to rest those exquisite optic weapons of his, but not in this room, where they look like wounds under the harsh light of the uncovered bulb--in a proper room, with a large bed and clean sheets and pillows and blinds that will block out the sun when Itachi wakes up. He wants to find such a room for him, and then he realizes that Itachi probably has one at home, and that he will return there when this strange segment of his life is past, like a scene in a movie that he has to sit through before arriving at the reason he's watching.
"Sasuke has been needing me lately," Itachi is saying, passing a thin-boned hand over his eyes, "and I have a concert on Saturday. There is a great deal to do; that is all. It will pass."
An ambulance goes by as Itachi says this, and for a moment both of them are unable to continue their conversation, caught as they are in its onslaught of sound. There are endless permutations of the same scale, the alarm that beats its sordid tempo up and down the streets, both heralding and staving off the advent of catastrophe. Kisame looks at Itachi's tired eyes, the red light from the passing ambulance casting him in a misty halo, and he wonders what the hell this teenager is doing here, this clean and pretty teenager with such polite words, and patterns of speech that make Kisame wish he'd paid attention when it was his turn to learn them all those years ago. The red light dances over the walls and slides like a sentient being over crates and discarded bottles of alcohol, and when it leaves Itachi's face he is the same wan person he always is. Nothing changes, but Kisame, for one, sees more clearly.
The whine of the siren echoes again in his mind, its cheerless doppler beating waves on the inside of his skull. It's a sound he'll always associate with Itachi, although he never understands why.
The months go by and Kisame takes walks with Itachi at his school, through snow-covered paths across the hushed winter-white campus, under tremulous trees heavy with new leaves in the springtime, over grassy knolls by the small pond as the summer days wear on, and under a single umbrella as autumn rain slants down upon them, drawing their first year to a close. They don't say anything special, and all Pein does is nod more respectfully at Itachi as he passes him his rolled banknotes, but one night in autumn Itachi invites Kisame to one of his orchestra concerts, and time moves just that little bit forward.
He likes going to those concerts. He sits with Sasuke, who has just started high school, and together they watch Itachi coat his bow with rosin and expertly tune his violin in preparation for a piece--a sonata, or concerto, or some other word that tastes strange in Kisame's mouth. Sasuke begrudgingly points things out to him--the conductor, silver-haired and masked; Itachi's stand partner, a curly-haired boy who looks close enough to be a cousin, or some other close relative; Itachi himself, resplendent in his concert black-and-whites and serenely lovely as the audience stands for him and he bows, a perfect concertmaster, before taking the soloist's chair and sending shock-waves of music down Kisame's spine and straight to the center of his chest. When he comes up from his bow his face is often flushed, as it never is after they've finished a job. Sasuke's friends whoop for Itachi and he looks in their direction, and Kisame forgets everything and claps along with everyone else. The noise of applause pushes away the sirens, the dingy room, the patches of fatigue under the soot-grey eyes.
Another six months wear on and Itachi makes the honor roll; although Kisame doesn't know what that is and Itachi doesn't tell him, he finds the letter wedged inside one of Itachi's thick textbooks that he doesn't understand. It's not the only thing he finds; sometimes he finds scholarship letters from colleges, perfect standardized testing scores, a note from Sasuke detailing his first high school report card.
Kisame hates finding these things. They make him sick, sick of the furtive glances Kakuzu gives Itachi as he passes him his cuts, sick of the way Itachi has to brush the broken glass from the grimy floor off his violin case, sick of the nights when he stops gasping to himself and uncurls his sticky hands beneath the sheets, Itachi's pale form burning brightly in his mind.
"Why do you do this?" he asks one day, after Itachi picks himself off the ground after a raid gone bad, and he holds the basin in front of him as Itachi wipes the blood from his mouth and retches into it again and again. "Why the hell do you do this? You could do anything. Why do you do this?"
Itachi never gives him an answer, and he knows better than to expect one, but he keeps asking anyway.
When he closes his eyes, he sees the red lights again, barrelling past his blackened vision as if rushing to the side of whatever victims he's left behind; as if he himself doesn't need medical attention and has already been cauterized from the inside out.
He goes to visit Itachi at school one day, uninvited, and he finds him on the lacrosse field, engrossed in a scrimmage with members of his own team. His teammates call to him in appreciation as he darts through their lines. In the afternoon light, his hair catches the sun and glints, the sweat-soaked ponytail flying behind him like a pennant.
"He's good, isn't he?" and Kisame turns, startled. It's the pink-haired girl who'd hugged Itachi the first time he'd ever come to his campus, and she's eyeing Kisame with a friendly smile like none he's seen so far. She looks a little older and her hair is short, but he recognizes her as one of Sasuke's friends.
She extends a hand, the epitome of polite, as all the students are here at Itachi's rich-kid school. Kisame takes it in his large calloused one and shakes, and she smiles all sunny like she's been waiting for him and is glad he's finally here. He turns back to the game, wanting to watch Itachi for as long as he can, but she seems intent on drawing him into conversation.
"I'm Sakura," she says. "Friend of Sasuke's. Your name is Kisame, isn't it?"
He nods. She senses his attention and swivels to the field, her eyes following Itachi as his are. Kisame feels that he should dislike her, but she doesn't bother him that much--she reminds him of Itachi, a little, with an instrument case--a flute? he doesn't know--and a light, textured coat that looks expensive and tailored, although it's approaching summer and the air has only the slightest hint of a bite. He notes these similarities for a moment before feeling ridiculous; every student here looks like this.
"Itachi's one of our best players," she says brightly. He decides he doesn't really care if she continues speaking, as long as she speaks about Itachi. "Sasuke and I go to all his games. You should really come to one sometime!"
"Would love to," he says, and he realizes it's not a lie. It's something he would love, sitting in the stadium as one of a thousand anonymous spectators, watching Itachi triumph again and again. Kisame feels a sudden desire for it, and he thinks he might just take her up on this offer when she drops her bombshell, like the oblivious, gossipping high-school student she is.
"Of course, he'd be able to play more if he didn't have to work all the time. I keep telling him he should let someone help him out, but he won't even tell us what his job is! Can you believe him?"
Kisame is surprised, and he doesn't see any reason to hide it, because he knows very well what Itachi's 'work' is and why Sakura isn't informed.
"Have to work? It's--well, it's his choice, isn't it?"
She gives him a stunned sideways glance, covered up quickly by taking a sip of the drink she's holding in a bright pink thermos.
"Didn't you know?" she asks. "Itachi and Sasuke are trust-fund kids. No parents. Their tuition here was paid before they were born, but he's still working to pay for Sasuke's college admissions."
At just that moment, Itachi looks up from his game and sees them. His eyes narrow and he jogs up the field, the jersey loose and falling partially off one shoulder, and he leans on his stick when he gets to the place where they are. Sakura smiles brightly at him and compliments him, and he nods politely at her comments, but all Kisame can hear is sirens, sirens, rushing away towards the sight of blood on a pale white face.
When Sakura leaves, Itachi's gaze is simple and direct.
"Do not say anything to Sasuke," he says, and all Kisame can do is close his mouth and nod.
Itachi and Kisame are sent out alone for the last raid of the season, a routine bust that never gives anyone any trouble. The melting snow has turned the city into a strange, half-coherent place; couples roam the streets and laugh as they duck into coffeehouses; high-schoolers like Itachi send one another text messages; the metro is dirtier than usual, with slush caked inside by eager pairs of boots, but no one seems to mind. The warmer weather unravels everywhere, and on the train, Itachi sits next to Kisame with his violin case in his lap. He'll go straight home after this, so he has his case and his leather schoolbag and the duffel with his lacrosse gear, and although Kisame tells him he can get them on the way back, he says he'll just put them on the side, and they won't be in anyone's way.
Kisame knows the actual reason is that if he gets them on the way back, he'll be late to dinner at home--late to Sasuke, they both know, but they never talk about this.
They're busting a drug scene in a warehouse; it's like a gimmick out of some stupid two-bit movie, and it's going well and Itachi is relaying orders to Kisame when suddenly there's gunfire and the entire situation explodes in Kisame's face.
He grabs Itachi and bolts, not knowing what to do, and going directly against Pein's orders but not caring in the least.
The grimy melted snow trips him up as he runs, and Itachi, lighter, faster Itachi stops and ducks into the side of the building for a moment and Kisame screams Get back here, you idiot and Itachi cries out once, only once, the sound of someone being struck down. And Kisame curses and goes back, because the moment he heard that cry, there was only one course of action.
The violin is shattered over the floor of the warehouse, probably by some bastard who must have thought the case held more smack--he told Itachi not to bring the damn violin case, he told him--and the frustrated man is pummelling Itachi into the ground in fury, not having found anything else. The pale skin has already broken, but the sirens roar in Kisame's mind and he charges in without thinking, pounding left and right and laying into the man as if he's putty between his fingers. Kisame can't remember the last time he's been so angry; he wants the man dead, he wants to see him a smear on the ground that's already been sullied with Itachi's blood, and he isn't conscious of what he's doing until he hears the screamed "Stop, Kisame, stop!"
He drops his unconscious victim and rushes to Itachi, who is hunched in a ball on the ground, hair pooling like spilt ink over the broken violin. There is so much blood Kisame can't tell where it's coming from, and his mind gives a last recoil in horror before blanking out entirely.
He carries Itachi for a long time, although the part of his mind that still operates in the city and the ashy, revolting neighborhood they're passing tells him it's only a block or two. Outside, the snow turns red in the lights from passing cars. Strings of city windows filament into bright fractals behind his eyes. Itachi's hands, those pale and lovely fingers that made music not long ago, now make wounds in his back that he doesn't see but feels as distinctly as the fresh gouges in his scratched, bruised arms. The world turns white; the sirens pulse out their final fluting call, and it's a wonder that Itachi still lays in his arms when it's all over.
The sirens in his mind are so loud he's surprised to hear real sirens sear down the street, this time coming for Itachi in reality.
As he always knew he would be, Kisame is the one to load the teenager into the back of the ambulance, and he will be the one at that cold and sterilized bedside when he wakes up. It's not an apology; it's not a way to fix what has already been done, but Kisame remembers the sunlit walks and the sight of Itachi's graceful dip as he bowed to his audience, and the look on Sasuke's face as he watches his brother go through the motions of mundane existence, and he thinks that maybe it's a start.
Maybe in the end he'll go to one of Itachi's lacrosse games, and he'll learn what the honor roll is and help Itachi apply for those scholarship letters he finds in his bag, and maybe at the end of it he'll learn something too; they can save something from the grimy, gritty wreck of what he knows his life has become.
As the ambulance pulls away, Kisame says, "You're going to stop doing this, Itachi."
And to his surprise, before the door closes--Itachi nods.