A/N: Not finding the KisaIta story I wanted to read, I went ahead and wrote it.

Double-timeline experiment. It would make me very happy if you let me know how it turned out...

Enjoy!

~X~

What bothers Sasuke the most about the hospital visits is the way Kisame talks to Itachi.

"Hey, Itachi," he'll start out, cheery enough, with his smile reaching his eyes in a way Sasuke knows his own doesn't. He'll go into the little room and flick open curtains, flooding the space with sudden, unexpected sunlight that seems to reach into the crevices and erase their stores of stagnant shadows. "Ha! Bet that bugs you, huh? Sitting here in the dark like a fucking vampire, hey, Itachi? Thought so. Now you can get a good look around, though, see what you're missing. Look at Sasuke! Grows like a weed, I swear!"

Kisame will usually make gestures to indicate how tall Sasuke is, since Sasuke doesn't stand close enough to the bed for Itachi to see.

"You're still a bit taller, I think. Don't worry. I can just see you throwing some stupid hissy fit if Sasuke ever gains a centimeter on you--you know you would, Itachi, don't give me that look."

At this point, Sasuke will usually turn and go out the door for a cup of coffee or something similarly contrived, because Itachi hasn't given anyone any looks for a year and a half now and they both know it. In the hallway, he'll stand against the wall and stare at the linoleum he knows so very well, the alternating patterns of cream and puce-colored tiles flecked with silvery specks that might have been mica on something of better quality. He scuffs it up with the tip of his Converse and is pleased when a black mark appears. If he turns around, he can see Kisame still gesticulating to Itachi, but he can't see his brother's bed itself. This is fine with him.

"--put up drywall the other day, and I thought we might slap on another layer of paint, too, while the tarp and shit's spread all over the house. Do you want red walls this time? I was thinking you might maybe like that. I was gonna bring you the samples, Itachi; you could take a look, but forgot 'em in the truck…You like red, though, it's a good color, so if you want I'll go ahead and do it, okay? Itachi…"

Kisame says Itachi's name over and over, his voice growing steadily rawer, more desperate, as if he needs to hear the name to reassure himself that there's someone on the other end of his spontaneous overflow. The three syllables seem to come out differently every time. To Sasuke it sometimes seems like he's never heard his brother's name before, hearing it come out of Kisame's mouth with such scraped-clean intonation.

"Itachi? Itachi…"

And then Kisame will more often than not say something stupid and untrue, like "Sasuke? Yeah, he's waiting to see you--SASUKE! Come in and say hi to your brother!"

Itachi in his hospital bedsheets looks different than he did in life, colder, more imposing, shorter, although Sasuke knows his brother is a fairly tall man and has towered at least five inches over than him at any given point of their lives. His face has a quality to it like a closed door or a chiseled piece of wood; of course, he is still beautiful, even in pale green hospital clothing with an IV drip encircling his arm like a particularly morbid bracelet. His entire being telegraphs finality--the hands palms down on the coverlet, the limp shoulders, the strange sad rise and fall of the chest. Itachi's breathing is quiet. Sasuke hates that; he wishes it were louder, so he would know it was still there without having to make itlook like he was paying special attention.

The most horrible thing is that Itachi's grey eyes are always open, steady and timeless as the sea, like the eyes of a corpse before someone has had the foresight to close them.

Kisame usually kicks him under the bed, then, and Sasuke nurses his foot and glares at him. And then he puts his hand on Itachi's forehead and moves a few strands of hair off his face, not knowing what else to do. Itachi's skin is sometimes cool, sometimes a little sweaty. The doctors tell him that this is probably because he's dreaming, which disturbs Sasuke--what does Itachi have to dream about, here? Still, he smooths the hair away and even tucks a little behind Itachi's ears, making him look very young.

What bothers Sasuke the most about the hospital visits is that Kisame can't stop talking, but Sasuke can never seem to say anything to Itachi at all.

~X~

Sasuke was fourteen when Kisame started calling. Although he didn't know it was him at the time, it was Itachi's voice that gave him pause as he was heading up the stairs to his room, a bowl of microwave soup perched precariously on the edge of his fingers--Itachi was talking, in actual full sentences, and Sasuke was so disturbed that he paused right there between steps and let a little bit of soup slosh over onto his bare feet. He retraced his steps back to the kitchen and leaned against the doorframe, staring at Itachi as he tapped his highlighter against his lips and tossed his rarely-given sentences into the phone like pennies into a fountain.

"Yes…Perhaps. I shall have to check with Sasuke…It is most fortunate, indeed. Yes…Very well, then. I shall see you tomorrow."

When Itachi hung up, Sasuke's casual glance devolved rapidly into the most accusatory of glares.

"Who was that?"

Itachi gave him a harrowed look and resumed his highlighter rhythm. His hair was snatched up away from his face in an uncharacteristically feminine bun, he had at least six reference books fanned out around him, and he appeared to be in the final stages of diagramming an intensely complicated chart. Sasuke tilted his head and observed the chart upside down. It looked like a cross between a logarithm table and a nautical map. He averted his eyes and decided not to think about it.

"That was Kisame," replied his brother finally. "A fellow student."

"A friend?" Sasuke asked, his voice rapidly escalating to a pitch which would have alarmed him were the situation not so serious. Itachi didn't have friends.

"Something like that," Itachi affirmed, and Sasuke's clenched teeth unlocked as his jaw practically unhinged itself.

"How come I've never heard of him before?"

Itachi sighed and began a campaign of idle page-turning in one of his gargantuan reference books. "Because I only met him recently, Sasuke. He is a senior engineering fellow at the research lab where I complete my work-study."

"And you're…going somewhere with him tomorrow?"

"He is coming here. We will be having dinner."

"Dinner?"

"Please, Sasuke. We will be working on a project. I fully expect that you will be joining us?"

Sasuke contemplated several courses of action before settling on the time-tested method of scoffing at Itachi and trooping halfway up the stairs, pausing only to snap, "We'd better be having something good," before slamming his door and treating himself to what he was fully aware was terrible music, but since he was fourteen it was almost forgivable. Itachi never said anything, at least—although admittedly, the list of things Itachi never said anything about was long enough to circumambulate the globe several times and still have several yards left over.

Kisame showed up the next day precisely on time, which made Sasuke even more irrationally furious at him, since he'd been looking forward to chewing him out for his lack of punctuality and subsequent rupturing of Itachi's fragile heart—an instance which was never going to take place for several reasons, one of which was the fact that Itachi possibly didn't have anything even remotely resembling a heart, but Sasuke enjoyed the thought of hounding someone about this nonetheless.

"You're Kisame?" he asked in a misguided attempt at courtesy, leaning against the door with narrowed eyes, but Kisame, to his extreme displeasure, did nothing but ruffle his hair as he breezed past into the house, calling "Itachi!" and trekking mud from the wet grass all over their clean floors.

Itachi, who was taking a tray out of the oven at the time, slung his dish towel over his shoulder and shook Kisame's outstretched hand in a display of completely ordinary camaraderie which only served to further horrify Sasuke. Itachi and human contact were notoriously incompatible. What was next? Fist bumping? Thumping chests? Pounding each other on the shoulder and guffawing in a manly fashion?

"I brought this," Kisame grinned, producing a bottle of wine from seemingly nowhere and dangling it in Itachi's face.

"It is most considerate," Itachi replied, "I, however, do not drink."

Kisame whistled. "That's like you, Uchiha. Well, then! I'll get the shrimp to join me—I did see some little kid running around, didn't I? Or have you been trying your hand at illegal cloning experiments when you get bored of being a mathematical prodigy?"

"I believe have mentioned my younger brother to you."

"The way you talked about him, I expected someone older—what is he, twelve?"

This was too much for Sasuke, who left his spying post behind the hallway door and snapped, "I'm fourteen!"

Kisame looked at him with interest for what may have been almost a full second before turning his attention back to Itachi.

"He looks a little short, Itachi. What've you been feeding him?"

"You may find out at dinnertime," said Itachi, and Sasuke was almost reduced to a weeping pile of slop on the floor at the comment, which sounded too flirtatious for his mind to properly assess—although this was ridiculous, really: Itachi, flirting? With a hideous, mutatedly tall stranger whose hands were almost the size of Itachi's entire head?

Dinner was lasagna and artichoke salad, which was one of Itachi's specialties, and Kisame further alienated Sasuke by making fun of it immediately at the outset.

"Artichokes?" he'd asked, holding one up and staring at it as if he expected it to grow fangs and lunge at him. "Look at this! Who the hell looks at something like this and thinks, hey, this would taste damn good in a salad?"

"I do, apparently," said Itachi, completely unfazed, while Sasuke riddled Kisame with optical beams of death.

"Well, you're something else, aren't you?" said Kisame, in a tone that Sasuke definitely didn't like. He stood up abruptly, his chair scraping, and shuttled the plates into the kitchen with maniacal fury, determined to forcefully propel the dinner to its close. This tactic, whatever else it was, was sadly lacking in subtlety.

"Looks like your brother's eager for me to get going," Kisame's voice floated into the kitchen.

"I apologize for his manners," said Itachi. "You are welcome to stay as long as you would like."

"Sure about that, Itachi?"

This last statement sent Sasuke scurrying to the kitchen doorway, beaming telepathic waves of hatred in Kisame's direction, but his brother simply gave his friend a cool look and fetched the logarithm-table-cum-nautical-map he had been diagramming.

"Let us finish the statistical map, Kisame."

"You got it. I brought my diagrams, here—"

And then they relapsed into a discussion of angles and tensions which was so mind-numbingly arcane that even Sasuke, the most dedicated of supervisors, grew fed up with it and resorted to skulking in the adjacent room with the PlayStation on the off-chance that Kisame attempted anything suspicious. But nothing of the sort happened, and in fact, the only unusual occurrence was that at one point Sasuke heard Itachi laugh, low and clear, like a searchlight slashing through thick nighttime fog.

About two hours later, Kisame ruffled Sasuke's hair in parting and gave Itachi's ponytail a friendly tug and left, trailing light from the open door behind him as he cut across their lawn to his dilapidated truck, and Itachi stood in the doorway with one hand raised, his lips loose and slightly skewed in an odd, lingering smile.

"I didn't like him," said Sasuke later, as Itachi rinsed the dinner dishes and stacked them in the dishwasher. The first time, Itachi didn't hear him. The second time, he gave him a look that made him wish he hadn't said anything.

"We are working on a project, Sasuke. Unfortunately, it has little bearing on anything whether you like him or not."

"He's a moron! What do you need him for?"

"He is extremely intelligent, Sasuke. Quite practical. I fail to see what your objection is."

"He's obviously into you," Sasuke snapped, against his better judgment, and to his surprise, Itachi, who was normally quite deft with his hands, dropped a plate into the sink. The noise reverberated through water and steel like a clang from a bell, and when Itachi tilted his head forward, a strand from his bun escaping to frame his face, it was a movement like that of a head bowed in prayer.

"So it would seem," he said, almost to himself, and Sasuke knew his brother's voice well enough not only to hear the smile, but to be surprised by it.

~X~

When they get home from the hospital Kisame usually lets Sasuke order whatever type of takeout he wants. They have a lot of menus, stacked and categorized neatly in the mail holder—the only thing on the counter that's neat, as the rest of it is covered with electric bills and banknotes all scribbled over in Kisame's haphazard handwriting. The letters Sasuke gets from colleges are never here with the rest of the mail; Kisame keeps them right next to the telephone, so that every time Sasuke uses it, he sees them with their attached Post-Its—"Deadline in two weeks," "He did a correspondence course here once"—reminders that Kisame updates regularly, although Sasuke never touches the pile.

There's never a name attached to the "he." Neither of them needs one.

It's not that Kisame can't cook—because he can, it turns out; after the accident he made such honest attempts to replicate Itachi's meals that Sasuke had no choice but to eat them, even though privately his throat had closed up at the sight of the colorful salads, the heavy meats stewing in their sauces, the artistic fruit cocktails that Itachi used to mix to entice Sasuke into his five daily servings of fruit. Kisame still cooks like that, although he doesn't eat such things himself. He goes for days on a measly order of takeout, or makes plain sandwiches that he takes with him to work, and almost never eats a fresh meal.

This used to freak Sasuke out a little, because he can remember when Kisame would eat more than his fill of Itachi's cooking at dinner every night, but he never says anything these days, because ultimately it doesn't really matter to him what Kisame does. They go their separate ways, although they make their way home in Kisame's truck on the same road to the same house with the same address and the same person to visit three days a week in the hospital, and Sasuke's all too happy to shut the door to his room behind him when they come back and let Kisame spend the silent evenings in his study downstairs.

He doesn't know what Kisame does, but as for him, he plays the guitar. It's not fun, but it's therapeutic, which really when he thinks about it is the next best thing. Sasuke's always been a quick study and he can copy anything—Youtube videos, concert clips, online demonstrations—and it only takes him one or two tries to replicate the work of more skilled musicians than himself. He buys an amplifier and turns on its overdrive, flooding his room with feedback and the snowy hiss of white noise. It's quite a sound. When he turns it off, sometimes without having played anything, he can still hear its vacuous roar inside his head.

"Can you turn that down?" asks Kisame sometimes, knocking on the door but never coming in. "Got a deadline tomorrow, gotta turn in the blueprints for this bridge. Just a few degrees down, that's all I'm asking."

Sasuke doesn't. He never says anything to Kisame, and he thinks Kisame should do him the same courtesy. It's only fair.

Itachi did teach him the meaning of fairness, after all.

~X~

Kisame and Itachi's project was a bridge. Their superior at the research lab where they worked hadn't liked it—apparently it went against the specifications they'd been set—so one day, Kisame plugged it to an architectural firm, sold the design, and dropped out of the graduate school altogether.

"I couldn't have gotten past the math without you," he said to Itachi on the day he did it, and although he was technically a dropout at that point, he was grinning that huge skewered grin and clapping Itachi on the back with an attitude that suggested he'd just won a lottery, or something more. Sasuke, chewing on a pencil and doing calculus problems on the table across from him, glared at this, but did nothing.

"Come with me?" Kisame asked Itachi, who was sorting mail into stacks at the mail counter. "We make a good team. You could partner me—I know you don't like Pein's damn lab anyway, not like he lets you do work you actually want—"

"Kisame."

"Ah, yeah—work-study, isn't it?"

Itachi nodded and continued with the mail, setting bills in a stack, junk mail away to be recycled, and college letters for Sasuke in a separate pile. He pulled the college pile towards him when he was finished and began flipping through the brochures.

"I do not think you would be satisfied as a scientist, Sasuke. Nor a mathematician. Still, I would like you to take a look at MIT's summer offerings—"

"You'd be a crap mathematician, Sasuke!" Kisame crowed. "Not like your brother. God, he way he looks at things—he should be in some ivory tower or something, not doing grunt work for Pein and his shitty architecture students. Quit ignoring me, Itachi. I said, come with me to the firm? They're giving me a quite a contract for these bridges, you know. You're the only partner I'd want."

"It is not possible at this time."

Both Sasuke and Kisame caught the "at this time" at the end of the sentence. Kisame smiled.

"I'm willing to wait."

And Sasuke looked at Itachi's white-knuckled hand, still fisted around the college brochures, and said nothing.

~X~

On Sasuke's seventeenth birthday, Kisame brings balloons and a cake to the hospital ward and makes Sasuke cut it right there in front of Itachi's sightless eyes.

"Look at that! Getting nostalgic, huh, Itachi? He's fucking old. Anyway, here's a present—"

It's a hard case for his guitar, in shiny blue plastic with silver trimmings and a monogram on the back that says SASUKE UCHIHA and his address. Sasuke drops it on the floor without saying anything, and Kisame's smile doesn't waver as he hands over another present, this one wrapped in red with gold ribbon snaking around it. It has a tag—"Happy Birthday, Sasuke! Love, Itachi." Sasuke pretends he doesn't notice it and crushes it with the rest of the wrapping paper.

It's a college index book, thick with school names, prices, facts, and maps.

"Thought you wouldn't want him to be slacking off," says Kisame to Itachi, "so I got him a present from you—it's that book you've got in your shelf back at home, you know—that huge-ass college index? Only this is an updated version, see? It's got all these exercises in it and stuff, and these little charts you can write your progress in— "

Sasuke leaves the book on Itachi's bedside table. He takes the guitar case home and puts it in Kisame's study, with a note that he doesn't need one and would appreciate it if Kisame could return it. Kisame complies with this, but he brings the index book home the next time he visits Itachi at the hospital. Unlike Sasuke, he goes unpredictably—sometimes every day, sometimes every few days—nothing like the once-in-three-days routine Sasuke has forced himself to accompany him on over a year and a half of hospital visits.

"You're going to fill this out," he tells Sasuke with authority. It's always authority now—there's no hair-ruffling or goading comments like there were at the beginning, just an old, tired authority that's as familiar to Sasuke as his worn old shirts in the dryer when they do their laundry. "He wants you to, so you're going to do it."

"Wanted, not wants," says Sasuke, not caring, and Kisame bites his lip and says nothing, which is a mistake, because it spurs Sasuke to continue.

"If he were here and told me to, I'd do it."

And then Kisame turns on his heel and walks out, back to his study—where Sasuke knows, an old statistical map hangs, in handwriting they both recognize, even though by now Kisame has done five bridges and knows the contents of the map as well as the lines on his own hands. Still, he leaves it hanging above his desk, and the light from his desk lamp gives it a golden sheen like old parchment. Sometimes Sasuke goes into the study and looks at it—it's still unfamiliar to him, because Itachi's handwriting, although neat, is somehow spontaneous on the parchment, uncontrolled and exuberant as an impromptu sketch, so different from the writing on the notes he used to leave Sasuke about grocery lists, bus schedules, reminders about chores. The numbers and diagrams have a sense of poetry about them—ivory tower mathematician, that was Itachi, all right—and Sasuke can't stand to stare at them for long before they start to swim in his vision, burning, drizzles of ink over fiery water.

Kisame's been promoted at his firm, but he still doesn't take a partner. Sasuke isn't surprised. The day he does, he'll probably take down that chart, too, and although they don't say it, it's probably more than either of them can stand.

~X~

When Kisame's first bridge went up, he asked Itachi to go somewhere with him—which was big, really, because they never went anywhere together and had they done so, Sasuke would probably have had to come up with some inane excuse to follow them. He had just turned fifteen and didn't have a car, so this would probably have involved convincing Naruto and Sakura to follow him to whatever destination Kisame had in mind—the aquarium, as it turned out, because apparently it was one of Kisame's favorite places. Kisame misinterpreted Sasuke's incredulous look and tweaked his nose fondly as he trailed Itachi around—"Hell of a place, I'll take you sometime, shrimp"—before continuing to wheedle Itachi into a few hours of watching marine life and eating grilled ears of corn at the aquarium café. Itachi finally consented, with a slight smile, and after they set their date, he once again stood at the door and waved imperceptibly as Kisame drove away.

But on the day of the outing, Sasuke came down with a fever—it was coincidence, although mentally he sang the praises of every germ in his body for their impeccable timing—and Itachi apologized to Kisame over the phone quite firmly; nothing in the world could convince him to leave his foolish little brother, who was completely incapable of taking care of himself. He put his hair up in that serious-business bun again and walked around in a delirious haze, making dish upon dish (chicken soup, dirty rice, apple turnovers) that Sasuke couldn't bring himself to stomach, and finally he sat next to Sasuke's bed and acted like he was reading, pretending not to stare at Sasuke over the top of his open book.

"I'm fine," Sasuke croaked at him, "You don't have to stay…"

"Be silent, Sasuke," said Itachi, taking his temperature for what must have been the third time in a single hour. Sasuke let him fuss like a paranoid new parent, and when the doorbell rang, he couldn't have been more grateful. His gratefulness was short-lived when Itachi came back into the room almost immediately, a bemused look on his face.

"Kisame," he said by way of explanation. "He is bringing something in—I have no idea what. He asked me to leave."

When Kisame finally yelled that Itachi could go back into the living room, Sasuke followed and hid in his usual spying-spot by the kitchen doorway. What he saw made his breath catch in his throat.

Kisame had layered the windows with blue-green cellophane and hung strings of giant clear sequins from the ceiling, so that the late-afternoon sunlight turned green and gold and cast aquatic patterns on the walls. Rays of sun caught on the sequins and glittered, altering Sasuke's perception of depth, making his sight flounder in the strange, precisely crafted cage of prismatic underwater light. Their living room—the prosaic setting for homework, chores, and domestic arguments—had become a thing of beauty.

Itachi stopped in the center of the room. A word, caught between his throat and his voice, glistened on his lips. When he turned, his eyes went wide, and for once Sasuke saw his brother as Kisame might, a romantic figure in the midst of a sea-green fairytale.

"You couldn't go," said Kisame simply, "so I brought the aquarium to you."

Sasuke saw an expression on his brother's face that he hadn't seen in years, and could barely remember—a strange shell-shocked look, pleased above the mere concept of pleasure, the way he had been when a younger Sasuke would imperiously hand him hideous crayoned drawings of stick figures with long hair or carrying smaller stick figures on their backs, usually labelled things like "sASKEY LOVES ItacHy" or "ITACHY and Me." Itachi had kept these drawings for years, even when Sasuke was old enough to be embarassed by the spelling, and now they occupied a permanent place in his study, tacked over his bus schedule and a small photograph of their deceased parents. Sasuke wondered why he had never replaced them with something better; then felt slightly hollow as he realized he had never given Itachi anything better to replace them with.

"I guess it's kind of stupid," Kisame was saying, putting one hand up to palm his hair awkwardly. "But it's not really the fish I wanted to show you, it's the light, and the…well, fuck, Itachi…I don't really know. I can clean it up, you won't even—"

"No," Itachi interrupted.

Kisame's face broke into a smile almost without his noticing. Sasuke's fist clenched and unclenched.

"You like it?"

"Yes."

Then, with a slow motion, the stroke of a swimmer in still water, Kisame reached forward and wrapped Itachi's ponytail in his fingers. When he twirled his hand, Itachi came closer, drawn by the movement of his hair, until one of Kisame's callused hands was tangled in the dark rope and the other rested lightly on the small of Itachi's back. It took one slight movement of his wrist for Itachi's head to tilt up like a flower, pale skin lit by the gentle moving shadows of the sequins, and then it was only a matter of adjustment, a simple change of tides, for Kisame to draw Itachi flush against him and close his still-parted lips with his own.

"You," said Kisame, when they moved apart, "are fucking beautiful."

The second time, there was the helpless, overwhelmed closing of Itachi's long-lashed eyes, and Sasuke thought he could see the sea change.

He went back up to his room quietly, and when his brother came up to check on him half an hour later, he didn't say anything about the fact that Itachi's white cheeks were suddenly as fever-bright and scarlet as his own.

~X~

Sasuke's seen a lot of other coma patients in the hospital, when he's waiting for Kisame to finish ranting to Itachi about whatever he's always on about, and one thing he notices is that people don't have any qualms about kisses. Sometimes there are long, lingering kisses, sometimes short dutiful ones as people are leaving, but most people give their loved ones kisses.

Kisame doesn't. As far as Sasuke knows, he's never kissed Itachi in the hospital, and doesn't plan on it. He seems content to sit at Itachi's bedside and just talk, the words tumbling out unstoppable and thick, and once in a while he adjusts the bedsheets superfluously or ghosts a hand over the top of Itachi's head.

But one day, Sasuke sees him gesturing at a drawing of a bridge, making elaborate hand movements to convey the mathematical terms Itachi helped him learn, and suddenly he crumbles like a mountain past its time, collapsing into the long-awaited avalanche. And then his head finds its place at the juncture of Itachi's neck and shoulder and he curls into him, one hand cradling the back of Itachi's neck, and Sasuke, even from his post at the door, can see his eyes closed tightly against the familiar smell of Itachi's skin.

These gestures are alarming to Sasuke, because although they're nothing he needs to shield his eyes against, they still tell him things—that Kisame knows how to find the right place on Itachi's shoulder, for one, that he can still feel his way across those pale expanses of skin, for another, and that he never forgets, for the last. It's an expression of intimacy that still startles Sasuke, even after a year and a half, and sometimes, he has to steel himself against the sensation of wildness that wells up inside him at the side of Itachi's fragile head, cradled in Kisame's huge hands.

Other than these isolated incidents, the only regular contact Kisame allows himself is a light clap on Itachi's shoulder when he and Sasuke leave—a strangely eloquent gesture. Sasuke's seen it between guys at the football team, at school, and sometimes he gets it from Naruto after they've started something important—I've got it, it seems to say. Things are under control.

Things aren't under control, of course, but Sasuke never says anything about it. If that's what Kisame wants to think, it's fine with him. There's no real reason he should care.

When they go home that day, he throws the college book in the recycling.

~X~

Kisame moved in shortly after what Sasuke crudely dubbed "The Aquarium Gimmick," and from then on it was three plates set at the dinner table, three names on Itachi's ridiculous color-coded chore chart on the fridge, three names on the letters in the mailbox.

Kisame set up his architectural books and drawings in Itachi's study, and at night Sasuke could hear his voice over Itachi's quiet one—ranting, as usual, something about his job, the bridges, the time he spent at the construction sites, walking over beams so high that they were like lines slashed in the sky. Itachi liked to hear these things, as far as Sasuke could see; he asked Kisame questions and smiled his small benediction of a smile whenever Kisame described a new commission or a particularly entertaining incident at a site.

There were things that took getting used to. Once Kisame came home when Itachi was studying for an exam and simply knocked the highlighter out of his hand, pushing him backwards into the chair and working his fingers into his hair and kissing him breathlessly inarticulate, and Sasuke was so stunned he yelled, "Hey!" without really thinking about what he was doing. Kisame grinned that sharklike grin, and Itachi, a little red but otherwise unflappable, gathered his hair back into its ponytail and retrieved his highlighter with his usual dignity.

"Please, Kisame," he said sternly. "Not in front of Sasuke."

And Kisame laughed, leaned in again for a quick taste of Itachi's mouth, ruffled Sasuke's hair as he walked past. "Not in front of the shrimp, got it. So—rain check, yeah?"

That was when Sasuke slammed the living room door on him, despite Itachi's quiet apology, which was somehow worse for the fact that there was nothing really to apologize for. Kisame knew this; Sasuke could see him go back into the kitchen from the cutaway wall at the back of the living room. He could see his arms go around Itachi from the back of the dining-table chair, see his mouth find Itachi's earlobe, see Itachi arch into the contact and tip his head backwards, the flower seeking light, always.

Sasuke couldn't tear his eyes away, although he knew he shouldn't have been watching.

"Kisame…"

"Yes?"

"…I am studying, Kisame…"

A chuckle, and Sasuke saw Itachi's breath hitch; smooth parted lips, a pale begging throat, had Itachi always looked like this?

"Didn't sound like that's what you were going to say," said Kisame, and then his mouth melded itself to Itachi's throat, forcing Sasuke to jerk his eyes away.

"Sasuke does not like it," said Itachi then, pushing Kisame away slightly with deceptively langorous movements. "He becomes uncomfortable—"

"Course he does! What'd you expect him to do—applaud?"

"Please. Not in front of him."

"I know," said Kisame, "I'll try. Can't help it, though…you are so—fuckingbeautiful—" and Sasuke heard his brother laugh, a laugh like silk bedsheets, and the scraping of the chair as Itachi turned around in it.

It was something that stayed in the back of his mind when he went back in later, and saw Kisame dicing a cucumber in an unnervingly smug, insinuating fashion. Sasuke resisted the urge to punch his face in and Itachi looked pleased, flicking a slender finger at his forehead as he passed to put his books away and make dinner.

"I am his guardian," he heard Itachi explaining to Kisame later that night, when they were washing dishes and Sasuke was in the other room sneaking packages of chips into his backpack. "I want to provide a life for him."

"Right," said Kisame, "and who provides a life for you?"

"There is no need for melodramatic insinuations," said Itachi, his tone curt.

"I mean it. Look at you—twenty-five, fucking best mathematician anyone at the university's ever seen, kissing Pein's ass because you can't pay for school if you quit, and you need to go to school to get some shitty job so you can buy Sasuke his life!"

"Sasuke has nothing to do with—"

"Like hell! You want to work with me! You want to build bridges, you want to do your own projects, you want to fly—and you can, Itachi, that's the worst part, but as long as Sasuke—"

"Shut up, Kisame."

There was silence, the domestic splashing of water, the hum of the refrigerator, and then Kisame said, "Sasuke doesn't deserve you," and there was a clang as Itachi dropped something, just as he had when Sasuke had pointed out how obvious it was that Kisame was attracted to him.

"Sasuke deserves the world," said Itachi, low and steady, and Sasuke felt the hot sensation of shame creeping into his skin like a cancerous growth.

He didn't know what it was that made Itachi say, calm as you please, "Kisame, if anything happened to me, would you make sure Sasu—"

"Itachi, what in hell—you know what? Shut up. I actually don't want to hear any more of this conversation."

"Please listen—"

"No. Nothing's going to happen to you. You're twenty-five, you're healthy, you've got your shit together. And—well, fuck, think I'm going to let anything happen to you?"

"You are becoming needlessly maudlin."

A laugh, choppy and sharp as always, and Itachi's cry of surprise as he was lifted off his feet.

"You just noticed? And I thought you were the genius."

Itachi was the genius after all, because two days later, there was the accident.

~X~

When Sasuke's playing his guitar that evening, Kisame throws open his door without knocking, and this is enough to make Sasuke drop the guitar and let the pick clatter across the floor, a sound like marbles, or particularly vicious rain.

"What," snarls Kisame, "what the fuck is this?" and he throws the recovered college book on Sasuke's unmade bed.

Sasuke's on his feet in a second; he's wanted this fight since Kisame moved in, and now that it's here he can't wait to show him who the intruder is, who should really be in Itachi's narrow hospital bed while his brother stays at home where he belongs. He opens his mouth and roars at Kisame, each you're not my brother and I hate you strong and sharp on his tongue, and when Kisame shouts wordlessly back he feels vindicated, relieved.

It's the best he's felt in months. It's the best he's felt in a year and a half. He's not sure he can stop if he wants to.

"I'm not going to college," he screams, "and I'm not filling out your stupid book, and what the hell makes you think you know what Itachi wants—"

"Fuck! Which one of us is doing what Itachi wants, Sasuke!? You have the nerve to talk about—"

"Shut up, Kisame! I don't know what the fuck your problem is—maybe you think I'm another Itachi, or something—"

And in retrospect, this is probably what makes Kisame pick up the guitar and smash it, right across Sasuke's unused desk, all snapping strings and splintering wood and discordant sound ringing and ringing like a siren as the amplifier screams.

"You," Kisame roars, "are an ungrateful—little—shit—" and with each word he pummels the guitar into kindling—"You sit in here and waste your time, listening to the damn white noise like some kind of junkie, and I don't say a single thing to you, because if you want to fuck with your own life, fine—but you're not—fucking—with—HIS!"

Before he leaves, he grabs Sasuke by the collar, and his eyes are sunken, haunted, sightless—as Itachi's eyes are, so far away in the hospital bed.

"You'll never be another Itachi," he hisses, "and if you had the balls to be, just once, you would give your brother what he wanted."

When he's gone, Sasuke sits on the floor next to the guitar. Its neck is snapped in half and the strings are frayed in a way that hurts to look at, but that's not what bothers him the most. The sun has set a long time ago, and his room is dark enough that the drawn curtains are entirely superfluous, so that he's crouched in the night without protection from the crushing blackness. That doesn't bother him either, and neither do the crashes downstairs, as Kisame thunders around his study and wrecks the desks, the things on the walls, the bookshelves, everything but the golden chart on the wall, a living will and testament of what Itachi wanted to do and never did.

What bothers Sasuke the most is that for the first time since the accident, Kisame has used the past tense—give your brother what he wanted.

He claws at the bed to raise himself to his knees, and then he switches on his lamp, smooths debris off his desk, and pulls the college book toward him.

~X~

In six months, it's a clear spring day—two years since the accident, and Sasuke visits the craft store for clear sequins and blue cellophane.

In the hospital, he pulls out the tape and stands on a rickety stool to make a canopy of sequins over Itachi's bed, right in his sightline. He tapes blue cellophane over the windows and smiles when the light comes in underwater perfect, blue-green, serene, sea-steady. He throws open the curtains and banishes the corner shadows. He smooths Itachi's hair away so he can clearly see the aquarium he's made for him. And then, finally, he talks.

"Kisame didn't come today," he says. "So I brought him to you."

Very little changes, and for that reason, it seems like a lot more has. The weeks slide by; Kisame makes meals for Sasuke and has takeout himself, they visit three days a week and talk to Itachi about Sasuke's grades—going up every day, can you believe it?—and the new bridge Kisame's just inaugarated—he's got a picture of it tacked right up over your chart, Itachi!—and one day, a letter comes in the mail when Kisame's just left to visit Itachi, and Sasuke takes the bus to the hospital like he's never done before—feet pounding on the linoleum and the nurses smiling in a strange way as he thunders his way up the stairs to Itachi's room.

"Kisame!" he yells, seeing the familiar hulking shape at the door, "I got into MIT!" and that's when they both see what the nurses were smiling about, because Itachi's not lying in his bed anymore—he's sitting upright, and the sightless eyes are now filled to the brim with the unspoken moments of two full years. Sasuke halts on the edge of the doorway, speechless. He hasn't had a problem talking to Itachi lately, but now, for whatever reason, he has nothing more to say. But it's a good silence, a spring kind of silence, a silence like a house when its owners throw open its gates and return, as they always knew they would.

Kisame grins a sharklike grin Sasuke hasn't seen for ages.

"Knew you would, shrimp," he quips, and then he goes right past him like a ship to the wide-open sea, ruffling his hair as he passes. Itachi smiles, elegant, serene as ever.

"You," says Kisame, "are fucking beautiful."

And when he kisses him, Sasuke drops his acceptance letter, smirks, and applauds.

~X~

end