A/N: Someday, I will be done with my psych project. And when that day comes, I will stop spamming you with fic. Scout's honor.
I do disclaim: The end quote is Neruda, as is, technically, the title.
It's the edge of an image that stops him in the middle of the marketplace. The boy ricochets against his chest and falls to the dust, all twisted limbs and milky skin, but Itachi is fixated on the face—and then the smile, slow, torturously saccharine, a knife twist without the accompanying pain.
"If you're in such a hurry, go right ahead," says the boy wryly, and one eyebrow quirks, in a lovely familiar asymmetry that sets Itachi's bones throbbing with an old sweetness. "Hey, hey, you okay? I said, go ahead."
Itachi takes one step forward, then another, then another. By this time, Kisame has stopped in the road ahead of them and is looking over his shoulder, as concerned as the boy himself, who is currently mussing his hair in genuine puzzlement. This kind of resemblance should not be surprising; there must be so many boys with these black curls, these langorous smiles, but—
The flicker of confusion on his partner's face eventually fits him back into context, and he says, "I am sorry. We will continue."
"Did he know you, Itachi-san?"
These sudden glimpses can derail you, he knows, more effectively than active nostalgia can. Some days there will be something—some sun-dappled pattern of leaves on a pier, the chafing of a makeshift tourniquet—something, anything, and his traitorous memory will burst open like a river in spate, soaking him to the skin with accusatory reminiscence.
What he said to Kisame is more true than he knows: he is now a man of twenty-one, and Shisui, eternally fifteen, would not know him at all.
He is now older than Shisui was at the time of his death. This is something he considers with a careful detachment, because he is a missing-nin, and he knows which roads to avoid, whether in the world or in his own mind.
From the very beginning, correcting his kunai grip or pushing him on the Academy swing, Shisui was older. Their two-year age gap was never mentioned, but it was present nonetheless, because Shisui was responsible above all things, and he counted his younger friend as a responsibility almost before Itachi became aware of it. His voice was a song in the back of Itachi's earliest memories, and his face a constant—although it changed, became leaner with the years, became chiseled, became beautiful—
But these are all things that Shisui never had: sparse growth of facial hair, the leaner, cleaner musculature of the chest, the height, the sense of adulthood as legal footnote. Sometimes, at the mirror in the hotels they frequent, Itachi can see the fifteen-year-old phantom over his shoulder, marveling as only Shisui could have, laughing at the nail polish, touching the links of the necklace around his neck, twisting his long hair around his fingers.
"Well, now," says Shisui in the mirror, his voice the amused, hot curl it became on occasion, suffused with suggestion, "look who's all grown up."
Someone should have told him this, he thinks: the terrible way in which Shisui would stay with him, as days and weeks and then years separate him from what he was that summer, when the entire world spun them a golden coccoon and life was clean, sweet as water, filled to the brim with something intoxicating that Itachi has never tasted again. This is something he was not prepared for.
It's still surprising to him, but this does't change things: he is aging like a page growing golden, and the Shisui in his mind's eye is so young that Itachi can no longer bear the passage of the years.
Now that he is older (wiser? And who was it, who thought to join these words?) he can see things he didn't see before. Or perhaps he saw them and simply discounted them, so many extraneous pieces of information distracting him from the main purpose.
This: Shisui was textbook ambidextrous, which was what gave him his inherent advantage in taijutsu spars. At the time, he had thought—with an unflattering hint of adolescent jealousy—that he must have been cheating.
This: Shisui's legendary speed cannot be copied, even with the Mangekyou—he has tried on several occasions to replicate it, but it's impossible. It must have been something inherent to him—although now, of course, there won't be any asking.
This: Shisui was the rare sort of boy who would openly acknowledge his two-years-younger relative as his best friend in public, and only in retrospect can he see the occasional snicker, the sporadic condescending smiles his friend must have ignored.
This: Shisui had a way, with his smile, of saying "forever," although he never did and in fact Itachi can't recall them ever having a conversation which would have required the use of this word. They never made one another any promises.
This: They should have.
The fact is, they were so good at being friends that being something else—anything else—came unnaturally at first. But they were children of the sharingan, and they learned what they needed with the same efficiency they brought to everything else. Now Itachi is old enough to know that Shisui's kisses were inexperienced, a little sloppy, a little too enthusiastic, and that despite his delirious memories of the single summer they spent as something else, they never went farther than a few incompetent explorations, fumbles and gropes without consummation. He does remember that Shisui sometimes blushed at inopportune moments, the mark of a true amateur.
He remembers that blush: ephemeral, vermillion, a shade that can still quicken his heartbeat whenever he catches a flare of it in the undersides of apples, or the liquid silk of hibiscus petals upon water. He remembers that blush cracking across white skin, as above him the starlight tangled in Shisui's curls, sharing them with Itachi's fingers. He remembers the embarassed upward quirk of Shisui's lips as he leaned in, the confession—"I've never done this before"—the kiss, featherlight careful at first, as if Itachi's mouth was something that might shatter, like marzipan, like sugar candy. He remembers how the taste was so surprising—so pure—that it drew Shisui's name out of him almost against his will, and how later, Shisui had teased him about it—"Come on, say it again! Shiiiiiiisui, oh Shisui—you just can't get enough of me, can you?"
He used to blush too, then, although he never does now. But then, everything was painted in that watercolor euphoria, things running together as Shisui appeared in sharp relief against them—and in the moments when Shisui caught his eyes at a meeting, or tugged on his ponytail as they passed in the Hokage tower, Itachi knew his cheeks were just as red as Shisui's had been that starry night.
When they'd gotten back from that mission, Shisui had shown up at his doorstep, grinning the most horribly mocking grin Itachi had ever seen and tousling his curls in an extremely unsettling way. Nothing was different about him, but things were different about Itachi—he knew what that mouth tasted like, knew the exact number of vertebrae on that limber spine, knew the look of those eyes as they flickered shut in impossible, uncontained joy—and so it wasn't the same, seeing him on his doorstep as if nothing at all had changed.
"Hey, you," Shisui had said maddeningly, "want to go on a date?"
Itachi had stared at him for what was almost a full second before slamming the door in his face. He had knocked again immediately after.
"A spar, then?"
Itachi had said yes, and didn't realize until they were halfway down the cobblestone path that he was an idiot. They had gone to the lower training grounds and spent a blissful two hours not sparring at all. Afterwards, Shisui had bought Itachi dinner and smirked. Itachi had thanked the powers that be for the high, obscuring collar of his Uchiha shirt.
"It's kind of nice when you say my name like that," Shisui had said later, demonstrating an uncanny ability to court death, and laughing despite the fist that launched past his ear not a moment later. "It's cute."
"It is not."
"True," and Shisui had curled his arm around his waist, spoken to the top of his head, just as he had for countless Academy secrets and mission briefings, the seashell exchange of words from one friend to another, and his voice had grown lower and thrummed like music in every nerve of Itachi's body. "It's actually pretty damn hot."
Shisui had mockingly given him all of the clichés one gave in the midst of pointless, careless young love, and he had felt the same warmth that so many others had felt, although he never said so. He had never offered anything in reply, although now, if he could, he would say all those things, giving them back to Shisui's earnest fifteen-year-old self as he should have then. But like old flowers, these things faded—what was sweet from the mouth of a young teenager is brittle now, even in his mind, just dry banalities pressed between the pages of a book and devoid of the scent and color they once had as they fell from the lips of someone beloved. He knows now that these are things you only say once in your lifetime, and that when you have missed that single golden summer in which they blossom, you can never say them again. He knows this.
Still, he would say them, if he could:
I will never get enough of you.
I would go anywhere if you asked me to.
Your name is the only one I will ever want to say.
One day he tries to speak to Shisui as he used to see Kakashi speak to Obito. He sets up his own shrine with candles and an offering of a little rice cake with a grinning face on it, something that Shisui probably would have liked. The candles are small and white. The silence is large and black. He knows how to do this. His mother showed him on many occasions, and he recalls her voice patiently sketching its schematics: the placement of the candles, the architectural angles of incense sticks in their burner, the respectful clap as they joined their hands together. There should be a picture. He closes his eyes, and his memory supplies one.
No one ever told him what to say, though, and that's the problem.
He settles on, "You died for this," and spins the Mangekyou into being in his eyes.
Shisui would probably have wanted to see this. He never did, after all, and maybe once the knowledge would have meant something, that his being was so much a part of Itachi that his loss created an actual, physical change. It's almost romantic, in a way. It's poetry made biology. These descriptions help him forget that it's brutal; like everything else the Uchiha have done, it's a perversion of what was once beautiful and true and right.
He lets the pinwheels spin in his eyes as he watches the makeshift shrine. It's just the two of them there, transient as a flame.
He says, "If you were here—" like anyone else at a shrine would. But he doesn't know how to complete his sentence.
Because really—if he were there, what? Would he have died anyway, two days later, in the anonymous rush of blood with all the rest of their kinsmen? Would he have stood against the rest of them with Itachi?
Itachi knows the answer is no. He knows it is much more likely that they would have fought and clashed, or one day he would have received the red scroll from an ANBU member—"Uchiha Itachi? We offer our condolences—" or Shisui would have grown old, running ahead of him in the two-year age gap they'd become used to, and then one day perhaps gotten married to some kunoichi, perhaps had children, perhaps kept on growing away as the years turned in on them like wolves and gnawed away the tender flesh they'd worked so hard to protect.
When he thinks about it this way, it's easy to be glad that Shisui isn't there anymore. As the pinwheels spin in his eyes, he thinks it's all right, maybe—they're together this way as they would never have been otherwise. A best friend, after all, is supposed to stay with you.
This is what the Mangekyou does: weaves its illusion of permanence, even as it spins the user's world into darkness.
He stands up and then he knows what to do, although no one ever told him. He is Uchiha and he knows that all flames are transient, but he has one that is not.
"Amaterasu," he says, and a single lick of black fire curls into the stone at the base of the shrine. It does not falter as it steadily burns away the vegetation, and then there it sits, cupped inside the granite bowl like water in two clasped hands, a candlelight vigil until the end of the world.
He should say something.
But already the sun is high in the sky, and Kisame will be back soon, and it's late. It's always been late. He claps his hands together and makes the ceremonial bow.
As he leaves, the black flame dances, and he lets his eyes fade back into grey.
Kisame, being Kisame, knows when the right time is to ask falls—as if by coincidence, it is on Itachi's twenty-second birthday. His last—and he would not be surprised if, somehow, his partner knows this as well.
"Who was it?"
"The person you made the shrine for. Last year."
The warmth of their hotel room is deceptive; it's winter outside and already gusts of colder wind are sweeping down into the valley, chilling the little seaside town and washing everything a particular shade of blue that makes the gold of the lit inside look warmer than it actually is. Candlelight dribbles in the corners and crevices. It's a clean place, a suspended golden place, and Itachi thinks there is no better shelter to wait out his last days on earth.
It's all the better because when he disengages the sharingan, he can't actually see it anymore.
Sasuke, he tells himself, because once the name was a rosary, an anchor, and once, when he thought of Sasuke's name, the world fell away around it and his sea-drifting life became a river of clear, whitewater purpose. Sasuke, he thinks. Sasuke, Sasuke, Sasuke—
Sasuke, and his memory gives up. He closes his eyes, and the blackness in front of them does not change.
"His name was Shisui."
Love has been, in all its forms, the lightning flash of storms over the ocean, pale glimpses of dark hair and dark eyes and teeth and smiles and lips that leave him lost, staring at the sky, starless and woven through with rain. It's the end of his life, and he thinks that just for a moment, he will allow himself to go adrift. Someday, he will wash up against a different shore—a sparkling, diamond-faceted new world—and that day, his memory will become reality, and he will remember without a trace of pain—
He is thirteen, and he is running as if he is much younger. It's the kind of clear Konoha day their village is famous for. The water beyond the edge of the pier is a grid of white-hot lines. Shisui is already there, dangling his legs in the water and smiling to himself as fierce ribbons of droplets spiral upwards, soaking him in radiance. His kunai and ninjato are already spread out, but they're neglected for the moment, because he is fifteen and the river has always been more beautiful to him.
It's a ritual they complete at the end of every mission. For as long as Itachi can remember, they've done it: come to this pier and cleaned their tools and talked—or rather, Shisui talks and he listens, but that's all right. It's always been more than enough conversation. This time, though, he's running as if they've never done it before, because they haven't seen one another for weeks and because they've both been so busy that it's likely they won't see each other again for weeks after either. When he sees Shisui the sight breaks over his skin like a warm trickle of sunlight, and before Shisui has time to call out a greeting he's launched himself against him and there are chuckles and reprimands and the feeling of Shisui's lips against his, and then they just lie there, together and tangled and a perfect universe collapsed against the pier's sunbathed wooden planks. Shisui says, "God, you're getting taller than me!" and lets his head fall back in surprised laughter, and this—this is all it needs to be right now. They don't need their forevers.
After this, Itachi will go and see Madara for his training session, and Madara will teach him the word "mangekyou"—and he will go home to Sasuke and let his mind curl around how to save him, sick with fear, with worry—and his mother will say, "Itachi, are you all right?" and he will never be all right again, but already at thirteen he knows how to close his face against this question. In nine days, there will be the massacre that will make his story legend, and in nine years, he will remember—
—that Shisui's mouth on his is sweet, unhurried, and he can feel his deep chuckles even against his lips, even as he loses his fingers in those curls and knits his senses into the exact, hopeless world of that kiss. This will all embarass him later, when his hair is back in its ponytail and his mind has reoriented itself to the world he inhabits. In the midst of all this is the strange terror that he will realize later is the other half of love, that someday Shisui will vanish, and that he will disintegrate if that happens. There is this agony, and there is the knowledge that he has never been without Shisui--as for two years, Shisui was without him. He wants badly to tell him this. But he is only thirteen, and so all he says is, "Shisui—"
And Shisui smiles, flips him over onto the wooden planks, sets him free over the unconquered grey plains of his eyes.
"Don't worry," he says. "I'm not going anywhere."
you know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats that sail --
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
that wait for me.