Since everybody seems to hate what I'm doing in the other story, I've decided to go down a different route. Let's say… Madara doesn't exist. Neither does Danzou. They… died (it's totally canonically plausible). The Uchiha Clan was made to STFU and STFD. No coup! No massacre! Just a story about all the normal, boring stuff that life is made of.

Look at that M rating, you know this is going to be some happy shiny AU pulp.


Stromateis

Five things Uchiha Shisui wished he'd lived to do, and one he didn't.

-o-

5. go on his first bender

Shisui's passing of the Jounin Exam coincided with his sixteenth birthday, so naturally his squad made it their sworn duty to take him out on the town for a night of debauched revelry and thorough inebriation. Because nobody knew how to party like a bunch of emotionally-tactile, socially-challenged ANBU, the night ended up light on the former and disproportionately heavy on the latter. Shisui was no teetotaler, but he also had never found himself halfway under a table, sucking up alcohol through a straw with no visible use of his hands, while still more drinks were being plied upon him by his cousin Yuudai (who at the rate he was going had a real shot at ending up On The Clan's List In The Bad Way).

So he wasn't terribly surprised when he woke up on the first morning of his sixteenth year feeling like a marinated steak, the hangover riding him so hellishly he could barely move without wanting to puke up all his intestines. He clawed uselessly at the sheets, and broke into a cold sweat when he realized he couldn't remember anything from the previous night after they'd discovered the baijiu with the scorpions in it. There might have been karaoke. There might have been Dance Dance Revolution. Shisui fervently prayed that he had hallucinated that part, because otherwise he just didn't know how to live with himself.

Then he pried his swollen eyes open, and saw Itachi standing inside the doorway of his bedroom.

"Are you a hallucination too?" Shisui asked, squinting.

The hallucination crouched over him. "Hold out your arm."

"Ouch!" Shisui yelped, feeling a sharp pain pinch at the inside of his arm. "What the hell?"

"I'm hooking you up to an IV drip," Itachi said, and set the stand down next to Shisui's futon, readjusting the height. "This is a bag of thiamine solution. It's going to replenish the nutrients your body lost. There's a bottle of vitamin water on your left if you can reach it."

Shisui blinked, and began composing various silent ballads extolling his best friend's saintly if robotic nature, all of which he took back when Itachi walked over to the window and flung it open, flooding the room with brilliant, brain-melting, retina-searing sunlight. Shisui's entire life flashed before his eyes—unbelievably, his dad and Itachi seemed even crazier upon review.

He rolled onto his side, and made the kind of feeble bleating noise that could have been translated as, "Stop trying to take care of me. You're horrible at it."

"You're worse," Itachi said serenely, and left the room. He returned carrying a basin and a checkered washcloth evidently liberated from Shisui's bathroom. He swept his hair over one shoulder, and began rinsing out the cloth.

Shisui flopped back down on the futon. "I'm never drinking again," he declared to the shadows moving across the ceiling.

"That would perhaps be wise," Itachi said. Robot, seriously. "According to Mother, Yuudai was found stripped naked in the Daimyou's koi pond this morning. Father and Yasuo-san are having a word with him as we speak."

Shisui made a mental note to send flowers to Yuu's funeral. He groped for the bottle of water, downed a disgusting mouthful while staring indistinctly at the gold flecks of dust swimming in the sunny spaces by the window. "So, you're back. Mission go well?"

"Yes," Itachi replied, handing Shisui the dampened cloth. "Congratulations on passing your exam. It's a pity I couldn't take part in the celebration."

Shisui snorted into the towel. "Like you would have gone even you'd been home." He peeked out again hopefully. "Did you bring me a gift, at least?"

"I placed it by the water bottle," Itachi said coolly. "Happy birthday."

It was a clear sign he was developing Wet Brain Syndrome if he had completely failed to notice the bright purple box sitting right next to his pillow, but Shisui was too gleeful to care. He flipped open the lid excitedly, and fished out a necklace, three metal rings linked together on a short chain.

Shisui did not say, "What is this tacky piece of shit?", but he was thinking it.

"I picked it up on the way back from River Country," Itachi said, apparently interpreting Shisui's bemused expression as admiration. "Many of its kind are sold in the markets there."

Shisui frowned, and opened his mouth to say, "Look, I don't know what gave you the impression that I'm into jewelry," but at that moment Itachi was leaning forward to retrieve the washcloth, and Shisui just happened to catch the light glancing brightly off one of the silver-grey circles at his throat. The dull wink against Itachi's pale skin made the breath catch under his breastbone, his stomach performing a lazy flip that had nothing to do with his hangover.

It was then, lying in his sunlit bedroom on the first morning of his sixteenth year nursing the worst headache ever, that Uchiha Shisui came to a ground-shattering realization about himself.

"Oh goddamn it," he muttered in epiphanic misery, burying his face in the pillow.

-o-

4. lose his virginity

Something Shisui would never admit under pain of death or even his father's all-natural organic cooking was that, at one point during his time in the ANBU, he had briefly fostered a crush on Hatake Kakashi. It had begun on their first joint mission when Shisui had witnessed his senpai in action for the first time, and ended on that same mission when he'd finally heard Kakashi talk.

But Shisui wasn't thirteen anymore, and long exposure had rendered him immune to the more annoying aspects of Kakashi's personality. And maybe Kakashi had come to the same conclusion about him over the years, because when they found themselves partnered up for an assignment again in Shisui's seventh month as a Jounin, Kakashi did not seem at all perturbed when Shisui interrupted their post-mission discussion to invade his personal space and let their faces hover centimeters from each other, hot breaths brushing skin.

Instead, he put a hand on Shisui's thigh.

Shisui was young and eager and had enough experience with indiscriminate groping to know where this would go, so he was pretty down with finding himself slammed up against the locked door of their shared hotel room later that night. But somewhere between jerking down Kakashi's mask (finally!) and feeling his mouth bruised and slick against a dark, utterly filthy scrape of teeth, Shisui abruptly remembered that he was just that, young and eager, and that bravado could only get you so far and he was going to suck at this.

"Oh God, this is the worst idea I've ever had," he whimpered, blushing hard enough to stop a riot. His hand was still shoved up Kakashi's shirt, the ripple of muscle electric under the pads of his fingers.

Kakashi just said, "That's not very encouraging, Shisui-kun," and pressed him down on one of the beds, shucking off their clothes in a worryingly utilitarian way. By the time the smartass remark floated to the surface of Shisui's mind, Kakashi's calloused fingers were already gripping the smooth bones of his hips as he mouthed Shisui into full hardness and gave him a blow job that threatened to suck all of his brain out through his cock.

"Wow, senpai," Shisui gasped, head thrown back against the pillow. "You're kind of a slut, you know that?"

Kakashi laughed softly into Shisui's inner thigh. "Maybe just a letch," he conceded, like it was even some kind of debate, given his penchant for consuming sleazy novels and seducing not-quite-legal colleagues.

Still, you had to respect someone who had the makings of a dirty old man at the age of twenty-three, and maybe Shisui was kind of a slut too, because he put on his best dirty young boy look and hauled Kakashi up for a messy kiss, tasting himself on the other man's lips.

He fingered all the old scars on Kakashi's pale body, twisted and ground their hips together, whispered dark, needy things into his hot mouth. Kakashi's lips traveled to his throat, bruising and mean, but at this point Shisui was suddenly distracted by the sensation of something pressing against the skin of his neck. Something cold and metallic.

"Um," Shisui started, and almost lost the thread of it altogether when Kakashi's teeth bit down on a particularly sensitive spot on his shoulder. "Wait, wait, wait."

He wriggled out from underneath Kakashi, trying hard not to meet his questioning gaze, and unhooked the River Country necklace from around his neck. He placed it on the bedside table, and in an incipient fit of wretchedness, shoved it behind the lamp, so that it was clear out of sight.

"Okay, now we're good to go," he said, and reapplied himself to sucking on Kakashi's neck.

As far as first times went, it was sloppy and ridiculous and special in all the wrong ways, full of inappropriate jokes about using the Sharingan to copy "techniques". It wasn't mind-blowing, but it was fun, and kind of perversely hot, and fun sex, Shisui would learn, had its own virtue.

The other thing he learned was that sex, like everything else, got better with practice.

-o-

3. meet his genin team

Chitose Akira was a snotty know-it-all who had graduated top of his class. Ogawa Sae was a spoiled princess from one of Konoha's newer upstart clans. Shinkai Ryouta was just an annoying brat, but in conjunction with his teammates' respective personality defects, managed to inflict damage aplenty to Shisui's rapidly waning sanity. None of them seemed in any way impressed that their sensei was only six years their senior.

Shisui hated them all on sight.

The problem was that, insufferable as his team was, kunai were very, very sharp and Shisui had no real desire to see them eviscerate themselves or each other being the enormous incompetents that they were. He spent his first week as an instructor complaining about his sufferings to anyone who would listen, and received remarkably little sympathy for his trouble.

"You're letting yourself get too high-strung about this," Kakashi said, not even bothering to look up from his latest volume of poorly written smut. "I've never had any problems dealing with my Genin teams."

Shisui gave him a baleful look. "That's because you fail them the moment they get assigned to you."

"You should try it," Kakashi said brightly.

Shisui glared at the ground. "Why do I even talk to you?" He honestly didn't know why he kept coming to Kakashi for advice, when it was becoming increasingly evident that the man was a relentless degenerate. Obviously he'd made some kind of wrong turn on the road of life—and goddamn if that wasn't another Kakashi-ism. He was doomed.

(He liked Kakashi, and not just in the naked way, but Shisui was also not going to be the least bit surprised when the man got hauled up in front of the Council for a round of conduct evaluation and had his ranks stripped for flagrant neglect of duties to the village.)

But as the months sailed by, Shisui's rocky relationship with his students simmered and settled into a steady rhythm. By the time they hit the half-year mark, the rabid whelps were no longer making him want to kill himself on a daily basis, and so when that year's Chuunin Exam rolled around, Shisui did not hesitate to register his team for it. He thought, 'What could go wrong?'—which meant of course nothing went even partially right.

The moment he returned from Grass Country, Shisui staggered into a teashop and collapsed into the seat next to Itachi, who as usual did not spare him even the most cursory of soothing glances.

"I need liquor," Shisui moaned. "I desperately, desperately need liquor."

"You are not in a bar," Itachi said. "And I thought you said you were never drinking again."

"This is different," said Shisui. "I almost got the Ogawa's heiress mauled by mutant leopards. My life is over." He looked around the table for a body of water large enough to drown himself in, but found only Itachi's teacup.

Itachi, as if sensing Shisui's intention, pulled the cup out of his reach, and said, "The Chuunin Exam is designed to be challenging, but not insuperable. You and I both managed to pass with relative ease. The fact that your student was injured is indicative of her lack of experience, but not necessarily a reflection of your ability as a teacher. You just need more time."

This sounded highly reasonable for the ten seconds it took Shisui to remember that Itachi's childhood had been even less conventional than his own. He'd entered the ANBU at the age of twelve, and now at sixteen still showed no sign of ever wanting to do anything else with his life, so what the hell did he know? Shisui should stop going to him for advice as well.

"You don't understand," Shisui said morosely."These kids aren't like you and I used to be. Peace broke them or something—they're all squishy and maim-able. Ergo, I need liquor."

He put his face on the table and resumed praying for swift, swift death. Presently, he heard Itachi's chair scrape, and then his knee was bumping into Shisui's. Deliberately.

Shisui turned his head sideway, and saw an uneasy softness coaxing itself out of his friend's face. Itachi's hand came up and rested on the back of Shisui's neck—uncertainly, like it couldn't decide whether to stroke Shisui's hair or pat him on the back, and so just lingered there, awkwardly cupping the base of his skull.

This had been happening more and more frequently for some time now, and was probably the result of fluky teenage hormones. Or perhaps after all these years even Itachi was starting to doubt his own human credentials, and was trying to make up for it with overtures of debatable affection. Only none of the gestures felt organic, and seemed more like he had read about them somewhere and was field-testing them on Shisui for later implementation.

Shisui should not find that adorable, but did—which was precisely the problem. Itachi never seemed to acknowledge that what he was doing was abnormal, and Shisui wasn't smooth enough to suppress the full-body flush that threatened to overtake him every time it happened. Retreat was the better part of valor in these situations.

"I have to go," he announced abruptly, leaping to his feet, "There's a—thing I forgot to do, so I'm going to go, you know, do it," and threw himself at the door with a hasty, "Bye."

He made absolutely no eye contact with anyone all the way down the street. Although Shisui fully admitted to being kind of a masochist, there was only so much self-flagellation he could handle in one day. He'd done his quota beating himself up over his ineptitude as an instructor—no need to go courting for more.

He ended up spending the rest of the day in Sae's hospital room, where she taught him how to tie strips of dyed nettle-yarn into the love knot that the members of her clan had woven for generations to send to their sweethearts when they were far from home.

"First, tie it loosely, and then work it snug," Sae explained, fingers dancing nimbly over two long strips. "The kanji in the word Ogawa translate to 'little river'. That's why the knot is supposed to look like twin rivers all winding around each other, like one tiny heart."

Shisui nodded in a placating manner, and couldn't seem to tear his horrified eyes away from the ashen skin of her bandaged face. He could sense Akira and Ryouta lurking outside the ward door, comradely concern warring with the boyish need to appear nonchalant and cootie-intolerant.

"In the old days," Sae continued, eyes bright, "the yarn wasn't even treated for toxins. You were supposed to collect it off the plants yourself and make it into threads by hand, thorns and all. In fact, the worse the nettles stung you, the more it showed how deep and true your love was. Having ten blistered fingers meant that your love would last forever."

Her enthusiasm for mawkish self-harm deeply disturbed him. By the end of the day, Shisui had managed to finish a grand total of zero knots, and so Sae consented to give him one of her own, appropriately woven from black and red fiber. This made Akira and Ryouta glare at him horribly, until Sae rolled her eyes and gave them each a love knot of their very own.

The following year, all three of his students passed their exam, and were promoted to Chuunin. Shisui gave each of them a summoning scroll. He walked around for days with a grin that couldn't have been pried off with a crowbar.

That same year, Kakashi learned that Sasuke's team had been placed under his tutelage, and Shisui just laughed and laughed and laughed.

-o-

2. fall in love

By Itachi's eighteenth birthday, his parents had clearly despaired of their son ever procuring a life mate for himself, and took the liberty of arranging an omiai with a suitably respectable family.

Noemi was soft and acceptably gifted, beautiful in a non-threatening way, and most importantly, came from a branch of the clan known for good-breeding and raising attractive, well-behaved children. Personally, Shisui felt that this kind of matchmaking was just begging for infant congenital diseases, but no one was asking for his opinions so for once, he kept them to himself.

That, however, didn't stop him from just happening to be in the neighborhood when the marriage interview was taking place, lounging around on the stone bridge overlooking the ceremonial tearoom. That was where Itachi found him, leaning over the railing to stare down at the obese koi idling in the moving water below, the reflection of a bone-dull sky.

"How'd it go?" Shisui asked, and was met with silence.

Itachi came to stand beside him on the bridge. His hair, Shisui noted, had been swept up, pinned at the back of his head in a loose, elegant coil, fine and dark against the shells of his ears. It exposed his slim, pale nape, and along with the low, dipping collar of his formal kimono, made his neck look about a million miles long.

For a man, he was really very pretty. Shisui wanted to kick himself for even thinking it.

"Noemi will make a good wife," he tried again, like Shisui even had any idea what categories you were supposed to use to measure wifeliness. "You two will have a lot of quiet, pretty-faced babies." He should stop talking, he really should. "Hey, maybe I can babysit sometimes, huh?"

Sharing your best friend didn't come easy, especially not when you had known said friend longer than the general length of forever. The first girlfriend was always tough, Shisui had been told. He didn't know how he'd deal with a first wife, but figured he'd manage somehow. He always had.

"If you find the idea so appealing, perhaps you should get married yourself," Itachi said.

Shisui almost managed to hide how much it rankled. Those words—they weren't one-way at all. A clear attack. Itachi knew perfectly well why not, and so did everybody else.

"Hey, be nice to me," he said, his mouth dipping into a vexingly genuine pout. "I'm gonna be the one making the toast at your wedding, remember?"

Itachi just looked at him for a long time, eyes in dark slivers under long lashes.

A week later, the news ignited throughout the village that Uchiha Itachi had slept with one of his ANBU comrades. One of his male comrades.

The ensuing inferno was Uchiha-clan-only, but no less epic for its covertness. Noemi was distraught, bundled away into seclusion by her parents, who were naturally furious and out for blood. Shisui felt incredibly sorry for Mikoto, who was regularly seen shuffling back and forth between her house and theirs, wearing expressions of increasing distress and hopelessness.

Shisui himself was feeling the heat. At no point had he ever made any attempt to hide his sexual proclivities, which had seemed like an awesome idea until the collective clan started looking at him like Shisui was the reason their heir presumptive was no longer available for breeding purposes. Every time they ran into each other on the street, Fugaku constantly looked as if he was one step and a psychotic meltdown away from taking Shisui by the throat and sobbing, "You turned my son gay," which would be particularly ironic since it was clearly the other way around.

But in a fucked up way, he did feel responsible. Not out of any misguided belief that he had been a bad influence on Itachi, but because Shisui had this sinking notion that he could have done something to prevent this. After all, he reasoned, it couldn't possibly have been Itachi's idea. He had probably been talked into it by some scumbag predator using lines like, "For a man, you are really very pretty," who had then blabbed about it for all who'd cared to hear.

While Shisui had no qualm about storming the ANBU headquarters in search of his soon-to-be murder victim, he figured it'd save a lot of time and effort to go straight to the source, employing a process he called better living through bullying out necessary information.

"Who was it?" he demanded, running the names of likely culprits through his mind. "Tanaka? I always thought he had a skanky look about him. Or was it Saizou? You know, I saw him order a daikon salad for lunch once—you just can't trust a man like that."

Itachi gave him a look that implied he thought Shisui was completely hysterical, which did nothing to assuage his admittedly actual hysteria.

They were standing in the living room of Itachi's new apartment—he had recently moved out, and just in time, because his house must be like ground zero right now. Shisui wondered if it had happened here, on the narrow, characteristically spartan bed in the other room, and was filled with the sudden urge to rip off the bed sheets and burn them ritualistically.

"Was it Konabe?" he went on, and almost exploded with mute rage when he saw the flicker of recognition flash through Itachi's eyes. "I knew it. I knew it had to be Konabe. That asshole couldn't keep his fat mouth shut if it'd been fastened together with pins. I'm going to kill him."

"Konabe did not tell anyone about our involvement," Itachi said, and snatched one of Shisui's flailing wrists out of the air. He locked their gaze, hard. "I did."

"You?" Shisui said, pole-axed. "But… why?"

Itachi's lip curled. "You know perfectly well what our family is like," he said. "Once they've made up their minds about something, it's useless to try to persuade them otherwise. The only thing one can do is to force their hands."

"At least you should have thought about Noemi," Shisui argued, wrenching his wrist free. "You practically ruined her for marriage. Couldn't you have been more, I don't know, subtle about it?"

Itachi stared at him witheringly. "Are you really the person who should be telling me this?"

That—that was just low. "You're not me, Itachi," Shisui said, speaking as though to a very small, very slow child. "It's different for you—we're not the same."

"And why is that?"

"Because," he began, and hesitated, even though there was only one answer to give. "Because what counts as a lifestyle choice for Uchiha Shisui is considered an indiscretion for Uchiha Itachi. That's why."

"Is that also why you don't touch me?" Itachi asked, and all of sudden, it was like they were having a completely different conversation. "You haven't touched me for years."

Shisui scowled at him. "What are you raving about? I touch you all the time. See?"

He clamped one hand down on Itachi's shoulder to prove his point, and knew he was in trouble the moment he did it. Before he could jerk his hand back, Itachi had reached up and closed his fingers around Shisui's wrist again, rough and strangely possessive.

Itachi's eyes were dark and wicked, something angry in their depths, molten and aching. He held his head rigid, hair tousled and coming a little loose along the slope of his neck, and Shisui—he had to leave. It had been a mistake to come here, because what Shisui had been terrified to admit to himself all this time was that he might have always been a little in love with his best friend. Part of the reason Itachi's little dalliance had bothered him so much was because he'd found it so unfair. At least it had been bearable before, when he'd thought he hadn't had a chance. His fingers were all tattered from the biting thorns, but he had nothing to show for it.

"You've never told me about any of them," Itachi said in a tight voice, almost authoritative. "I always hear about it from other people, but never from you. Tanaka, Saizou, Konabe—how long would the list have gone on if I hadn't stopped you?"

"I—" Shisui choked. His head felt heavy, like he was running a high fever. Stupid Konabe and his big fucking mouth. "It was none of your goddamn business!"

"You're right," Itachi said firmly. "It was none of my business. I want that to change."

It made something expand and close up inside Shisui's throat, which was bad because the room was suddenly too small, infinitesimal, rapidly melting from awareness. He was in freefall. He couldn't breathe, let alone voice a protest when Itachi leaned in close, breath warm on Shisui's cheek and still gripping his wrist with force enough to splinter bone.

"Is this also an indiscretion, Shisui?"

Itachi had always had a way of getting what he wanted, so Shisui knew he shouldn't make it even easier for him, but he had trouble saying 'no' to Itachi, always had, and anyway, he didn't really want to. He thought meanly that Itachi was forcing his hand a little too, but then his determined mouth was closing over Shisui's, smooth and precise, and he couldn't think anymore.

And then everything became soft and languid, like he was floating in a deep blue water, dark and cool, curling around his limbs in tendrils. His feet moved without clearing it with his mind, and he found himself being drawn through a doorway into Itachi's darkened bedroom. He hadn't had time to burn the sheets, not even to bleach them at least, and fuck, his hands were shaking.

Sex got better with practice, and at this point in his life, Shisui had had all manners of sex—good sex, bad sex, spectacularly bad sex, and on occasions, the kind of sex that sent his brain slushing out his ears. He was man enough to admit that—yes—in the last three years, he'd kind of gotten around, but all that meant was that he really should know what the hell he was doing by now. But this felt like his first time all over again, except not at all. Instead of frenetic fumbling, it was all slow and inebriated, unfocused, and the person undressing him wasn't Konoha's most renowned pervert, but was in fact his oldest and best loved friend, serious and unearthly in the light that poured in from the window, and that threw everything into sharp relief, suddenly too real.

"You know," Itachi said, an amused murmur in the crook of Shisui's neck, "I really expected you to be more proactive in this, given your greater body of… experience."

"I hate you," Shisui declared. "Stop calling me a slut."

He felt incredibly wronged by the implication, by the entire goddamn universe, because even though Shisui had wanted this forever, he had no fucking clue how to proceed. All the admittedly sluttish things he'd done up till now ebbed away from his memory, leaving him helpless and awash, incapable of anything except pressing trembling kisses to Itachi's eyelids, the hollow of his throat, the wet corner of his fluttering mouth, until the courage shored up inside him again.

Itachi was, without a doubt, the most beautiful thing Shisui had ever had, one long, exquisite curve rising up over him like a pale reef. Even though Shisui knew exactly what it felt like to be allowed close enough to touch, the plausibility of contact still surprised him every time. He had no idea how to reconcile with reality this image of Itachi rocking above him, impaled, skin moving over his ribs, so thin over his body Shisui could see the laddering of it, long hair a messy spill over his shoulders. His narrow face tight and sharp, shadowed, lip bitten in concentration.

And even as Shisui was sliding his hands up those smooth, white thighs splayed over his hips, possessed and disbelieving, Itachi made a soft growl in his throat, digging his fingers into Shisui's shoulders and lifting his thin hips in a clever snap that made Shisui gasp and suffocate in his own skin. He muffled a curse into Itachi's shoulder, and resolved to genjutsu Konabe off a bridge, that cradle-robbing bastard, because a week ago Shisui's best friend had been a chaste and awkward automaton, and now he was a filthy whore. Birds of a feather, indeed.

He remembered closing his hands over slim hipbones then, pulling Itachi down into him at the same time that he pushed upward. Itachi tossed his head back, long hair sweeping his back as his spine arced into a supple, near-impossible curve, changing the architecture of his bones. Mouth dropping open. His thighs strong and insistent at Shisui's sides, grinding down to meet every deep thrust. Eyelids dusky and heavy, lashes fluttering shut. Otherworldly.

Tie it loosely, then work it snug. That's what we're made of, Shisui thought. Two rivers, one heart, all winding together. He closed his eyes on it, and biting his lip, gripped Itachi's waist and pressed their bodies together one last time, aching with it, pained and moaning, and when they came within seconds of each other, it was slow and silent, almost reverent, time losing velocity and congealing around them so that it was impossible to tell beginning from end.

It really was his fault now, Shisui reflected. He didn't relish the idea of facing Mikoto's harrowed expression, couldn't even fault Fugaku for wanting to strangle him anymore. Perhaps they could be persuaded to direct all their deluded hopes toward their other son—but given that Sasuke regularly eschewed the adoration of half the girls in the village in favor of rivaling it up with his very much male teammate, this prospect didn't inspire in him much confidence.

But he was skin-sated and drowsy with it, and he didn't care. He'd rather live forever in this sleepy, breathless memory, combing Itachi's heavy hair away from his damp neck, pressing a kiss to the beauty mark on his left shoulder as the soft light of morning filtered in. His heart a ship in port, entering harbor through rough waves, ready for the mooring hitch. Done with the charts. Done with the compass. Done with the sea.

-o-

1. fight in a war

There was a slight movement at the edge of the hatch. It reared a little, bumping the lamp, the fitful flame lurching and bouncing. Shisui blinked the cold needles out of his eyes, checked the time: oh-five-hundred. Perhaps his relief was early. He picked up the lamp, and took a step back.

"Shisui?"

The hatch lifted up all the way, and Itachi's head appeared above the opening. The oily light fell on his face, coaxing it out of the heavy shadow under the hood of his traveling cloak. Solemn-eyed, like a ghost stepping out of the grey fog. Shisui wondered if he might have fallen asleep on watch. Shouldn't do that. Set a bad example.

Then he said, "Shit, you're really here?" and sprang forward, gripping Itachi's hand and pulling him up onto the landing. Their feet made soft thuds on the wood planking, weary creaks, everything amplified in the still space. A silence so absolute it might sound if struck.

"Shouldn't you be in Konoha?"

Itachi pulled back his hood. "I had an assignment." His breaths short and puffy, solidifying slowly in the frigid air. "I'm here to deliver a message from central command to your company's leader." A gaze and a moment. "You look well."

"Thanks," Shisui said. He was… okay. Tired, but tiredness was nothing to complain about these days. "How's everything at home?"

"Stable," said Itachi, and did not elaborate.

Their relative situations were now more or less the opposite of what they had been in the last war. Shisui felt that, on more than one levels, this meant he had gotten what he'd wished for—but then his dad had survived the battlefield and his mom had died in a surprise raid, so it wasn't like there was some kind of set rule about these things.

All he was saying was: if Mortuary Affairs was going to be sending home a white cardboard box with a little three-ringed necklace in it, Shisui would rather it to have come from his own neck.

They stood quiet in the early morning, breaths like little clouds of frost around their heads. The air was blue all around, a softer kind of blue, cold but not unkind. Early. Too early for conversations, just the steadiness of Itachi's eyes, measuring the gradations of the sky. Waves of mist scudding across the ground, visibility almost down to nil. Skimmed horizons.

"I'd have thought a platoon commander would have been spared night watch duties," Itachi remarked, breaking the silence. "Who did you offend this time?"

"Nobody," Shisui muttered. "One of the guys has the run, so…" He made a face. "Didn't want the sanitary sanctity of this watchtower desecrated or anything. Plus, you know, let him get a bit of rest. Half of them look like they're constantly on the edge of crapping their pants as it is."

"Perhaps I shouldn't have intruded, then," Itachi said.

"It's not a big deal," Shisui said quickly, and thought, the hell? He'd just got here, was he going to leave? "Base's secure—someone just has to be up here, that's all. It's been pretty quiet around here lately." With any luck, it'd stay that way. "What else have I got to do with my time?"

"Sleep?"

There. Now he could smile. "I sleep badly alone."

They touched then. Nothing much, twined fingers over the splintery railing of the tower. The utter lack of impurities in the air all around made the pigments in Itachi's eyes more concentrated. Bones thinner. Mouth redder. End of December, but his skin felt warm, and as always, Shisui wanted more. Still, there was a distance. This was if not hostile then at least unfamiliar territory, and they had instinctively retreated into that paranoid mode of the early days, back when they'd treated each other like dirty little secrets.

Which, Shisui reflected, they weren't at all, what with the two utterly surreal years he had spent pushing the utmost limits of his eroding sense of moral responsibility and self-preservation to establish as common knowledge that, yes, Shisui was sleeping with his sorta cousin, and no, your significant other was totally not as hot as his. He couldn't even pretend to be sorry about it: given all the shit he'd gone through in the courting process, he had clearly earned bragging rights.

They were practically living together. Shisui couldn't make himself put his father's house up for sale, but he wasn't keen about living there either, so at one point he'd stopped going home and started moving his things into Itachi's ridiculously bland LDK. This had led to endless jokes in the workplace about live-in girlfriends, despite Shisui's many assertions that, technically, he was the freeloader in this scenario, and anyway girlfriend was such a strong word for Itachi.

Sometimes Shisui suspected that, if he ever truly sat down to think about this whole thing, it would probably freak him out a lot. He didn't know how to explain it, any of it, the shocking banality that came after the crescendo of the storm, manifested in coordinated schedules and disturbingly domestic arguments, a fucking monthly budget. This kind of happiness was dangerous, he thought, liable to capsize at any moment, secured in place by a slippery hitch—but maybe that was just his emotionally-crippled upbringing giving its two cents.

Itachi's fingers turned under his grasp. "Something's on your mind."

"Hmm."

"You should talk about it."

Shisui laughed. "Are we going on a date? You hate talking."

"Not to you."

Could've fooled me, Shisui thought. Out loud, he said, "What if I don't feel like talking?" and tugged Itachi in for kiss, feeling a little reckless, a little wild. He palmed the warm, familiar curve of Itachi's skull, and let their mouths find each other, the same firm promise of lost momentum. When he pulled away, something like a bite lingered on his tongue.

"What is that taste?" Shisui asked. He rolled it around in his mouth. "Ginger?"

"I drank some tea earlier," said Itachi. "Do you find it disagreeable?"

"No," Shisui said. Filing it away. "No, not at all."

He kept associating tastes and smells with moments. Jasmine in his water; nutmeg in the folds of winter clothes; a clean sharp scent of indeterminate origin, reminiscent of lightning and pure chakra releases. Persimmons. A rich, precise fragrance. Why persimmons, he wondered, and then the fragment of sense memory swam into reach, vivid. Of course. That afternoon, early autumn. The sun dipping in a mellow sky, and Shisui had snuck out in the middle of a ninjutsu practical, slipping away so quietly he should have been awarded an A by default. Driven by hunger. Tofu and organic bean sprouts made a poor bento for eight-year-olds, nothing like the tender meat of a fruit so sweet and warm it was as though each housed a sun in its middle.

He'd peeled at the melting skin excitedly, eager for the dribble of sticky juice, but the undressed fruit had never made it to his mouth. From below him, a voice had said, "You shouldn't be skipping class," and that had made Shisui startle and nearly fall out of the tree. He'd looked down and down into Itachi's disapproving face. His hair had still been short then. Awkwardly cropped, a fray of black wire against skinny white neck. Quieter than Shisui had ever been, and would ever be. Shisui did not remember what he had said then, probably something tart and not at all persimmon-sweet, but he did remember Itachi's upturned face, patterned with sunlight struck through the leaves.

A jarring sound tore Shisui away from the sensory narrative of his memory, and the present was with him again. Itachi's hand cupped to his mouth. The other hugging his ribs, drawing his shoulders narrower. He recognized that bone-dry sound.

"That cough still hasn't gone away?" Shisui said, frowning. "It sounds even worse than the last time I saw you. Did you go get it checked out like I told you to?"

"There are more important things to worry about," Itachi said chidingly, and, under the influence of Shisui's best hangdog expression, relented and added, "I'll get to it when I return. Mother will probably make sure of it, even if you don't."

"How is Mikoto-sama?"

"Fine. She's overseeing the distribution of rations, we see each other fairly often. She asked about you."

Back before his deployment, Itachi's mother had asked after him a lot too. She had also dropped by every weekend to cast appraising and occasionally doleful looks over the state of their apartment. It made Shisui want to die a little inside, because he had spent the ages 8 through 14 nursing the biggest most poorly concealed crush on Mikoto, and even though she didn't seem to hold a grudge against him for turning her life upside down, he wanted her approval anyway.

"And how is—how's Sasuke?"

Itachi gave him an amused look. "He's also doing quite well," he said. "Why do you ask?"

"I was just wondering," Shisui said irritably. Feeling fractious. Hating it. "You know what I heard the other day? Akira's squad got ambushed on the way back to camp. Eighty percent fatality, and they were just this little recon team. Akira made it out alive, but—makes you think about what the kids are getting up to these days, doesn't it?"

Stupid question. Stupid on so many levels. For one thing, Akira was no more a kid than his sensei had been at his age: sixteen, Jounin, cocky as fuck. For another—congratulations, jackass, Shisui thought—he had successfully dragged the war kicking and screaming from the backdrop into the foreground, and had tossed Itachi's little brother into the picture just for the hell of it.

"Sasuke handles himself well," Itachi said quietly. "He has his team. Kakashi. Better than most can ask for." He stopped, coughed a little into his hand. "And as I've said, the situation on the home front is stable. We all have to do our part."

Like wicked sisters, statecraft and warfare went hand in hand. Not five months into open combat, and already it felt like the decade-and-a-half of preceding peace had never been at all. The war was everywhere. A sinister anthem, the light deftness to which men went to die.

Shisui let himself flop over the railing. "Tell me about it." Trying for repose. "I've heard so many explosions I think I'm starting to like the sound."

This was a lie. If Shisui never smelled cordite again, it would be too soon. He could do without them all, really, the lovely unique odors associated with war—iodine, dysentery, burnt rubber, charred wood, the godawful slop masquerading as food in the mess tents. Rot. The human body had a strange way of breaking: all along the anatomical lines under a blade, every which way in a burst of explosive shells. Then there was the metamorphosis. The unburied dead couldn't retain their appearance in life. They grew bigger and bigger, filling out their clothes to bursting point, skin drum-taunt, iridescent like hot tar around the edges of injuries. The progression of colors on those globular faces would appeal to an artist or a naturalist, but to a shinobi it was an affront, an itch along the spine. Sloppiness went against everything they stood for—efficiency, clean disposal, covered tracks—but in war, everything changed.

The smell of a battlefield was the one thing Shisui could never cross-reference. There was nothing else to relate it to; it just was. In a way, he was glad for winter.

You got used to it. That was the worst part. Human beings could get used to anything, given time and repeated exposure. With those who'd been born into it, it wasn't even about the time element.

A bumping noise, and the hatch popped open at their feet. "Sorry I'm late, Uchiha-taichou and… uh…" The young shinobi's eyes flitted around the small cabin. "…and Uchiha-taichou. I'm here to relieve you." His face was fresh, impossibly green, and Shisui rolled his eyes at Itachi. See what I tell you? Peace broke them. Look what I have to put up with.

The base was rousing, full of the little noises that made up the ritual of morning. They drifted through the rows of tents, making their way back to his platoon's sleeping quarters. Most of the men would have been out of their bunks by now, headed for the baths or the mess. Shisui looked around the camp, and saw nothing but immensity, the tremendous scope of its operation.

"You know, as commander, I get a private tent."

"A tent doesn't sound very private."

"It is when you're a ninja." He reached the entrance, fiddled with the flap. "Are you finished with your assignment?"

"Yes," Itachi said, eyes to the sky. Measuring daylight angle. "I should be getting back."

"Can't you stay?" Shisui said, not above outright pleading. "Not even a little bit?"

That, at least, earned him a smile. "You should rest."

"I sleep terribly when I'm alone."

For a moment, it seemed like all he would be getting was a sound rebuke. Then Itachi looked him in the eye and ducked forward, his smile a flashing fin, suddenly sharp enough to bleed on. A faint smolder kindled in his eyes.

Shisui remembered, with a touch of déjà vu, emerging into cool shadows, the tent flap closing behind him, and then those long fingers were on his body, familiarly calloused but full of a strange, ravenous energy, dragging across his skin like red-hot pokers. The sharp tinge of ginger filled his mouth, and underneath it: something else, something more elemental, a taste he should recognize. Shisui tried to reach for it, but the hunger inside him reared up and howled, and the rope slipped away from him. Itachi was pulling him down with the tide, wrapping around him like a second skin as they moved silently against each other with all the urgency of war.

-o-

0.

They said there was no cure.

Medicines couldn't stop the inevitable, only forestall it. More aggressive interventions were available, but would just do more harm than good. Itachi was dying in increments, and he was aware of it. Had been aware of it all along. He had about a year, possibly months, and had already spent three of them lying to Shisui and everybody else around him.

Shisui had a shitty track record when it came to death, so predictably he took it in the worst way possible. He was scared and furious, and in his fear and anger, ended up saying scary, infuriating things, scooping them out of himself in glistening fistfuls, all bloody and raw. He raved and roared, wielding words like blunt weapons, and didn't care where they hit because his heart was breaking and it wanted company.

In return, Itachi spouted a bunch of bullshit about responsibilities and sacrifices, about choices and how you made them, none of which Shisui even heard because every nerve, every cell in his body was currently tuned in on the cold fire in Itachi's shadowed eyes, which seemed to call for distance to pool in between them. Burning the road at Shisui's feet.

Fine, if that was how he wanted to play it. Fine.

The war made it easy. Shisui had responsibilities himself; his men depended on him to keep them alive. Surely they must have loved ones who daily prayed for their safety and were not complete morons, and Shisui was convinced that if he could do this right, just this one thing, then everything else would cease to matter. So that was how he came to spend months and months in those flooded trenches, giving and following increasingly meaningless orders, fighting to protect people who were not nearly as important as Itachi.

He was waiting for something—an announcement, a summons, a miracle—but as the silence grew longer, this seemed ever less likely. Itachi, as far as he could tell, was doing the exact same things he had always done, as though nothing in his life had fallen out of step, and so Shisui went on too. Each day he spent dodging fate under that sky full of flying death meant a night he wouldn't spend lying awake, thoughts churning and training south, toward the one-bedroom apartment in Konoha where Itachi slept with that illness in his chest.

It took Sasuke barging in on a strategy meeting one day in late July and punching him square in the mouth before the silence broke, and suddenly all the noise in the universe came pouring back in all at once. It crashed against him like a vicious wave, and Shisui was so busy drowning in the tidal rip that it took him a few moments to realize that he was being spoken to.

"He's asking for you," Sasuke said, imperious with rage, fist clenched and bleeding from the collision with Shisui's front teeth. "I personally think you're a worthless bastard, but he's asking for you, so you'd better get there as soon as you can."

A summons. It had come at last, and in it, all Shisui could hear was: it's over, over, over.

He made it all the way back to his tent before having a complete and total breakdown, prone and gaping in the dust, like someone had cracked open his chest to see what was inside, sinews and muscles breaking down at the seams. Sasuke was right. He was a horrible, miserable, inexcusable bastard, and if there was any justice in the world it would be him dying, his veins drawing thin and dry, his body with the seal of god stamped to its forehead. But tomorrow when Shisui woke up he would still be here; nothing would have changed, not for the rest of all time, and even this self-indulgence was not something he deserved. He had to get it out, get it all out right now, wring all the weaknesses out of him before he returned to Konoha. It hollowed him and tore him inside out and hurt for hours, but when he arrived at the hospital, his eyes were dry.

Sasuke was there to meet him. Shisui remembered him as a child, bright-eyed and rash, clinging like a barnacle to his brother's shirt, and again as a rawboned teenager, starry-eyed in a whole different way but still rash and possessive, still incapable of letting go. Now, though, it seemed he had grown up overnight, grief accelerating his age and pushing his bones to meet the oncoming burden, rearranging them into a shape sturdy enough for two. This was more apparent than ever when you saw him placing his arm around Mikoto to help her to her feet, her smaller body curled up against his side as they made their way down the hall.

Sasuke's teammates were waiting for him by the ward door. As Sasuke and his mother passed, they got up and began to follow, respectfully keeping a three-step distance. He would be gutted, carved hollow and wrecked to pieces, but he had them, and would have them. They would be there to put him back together again. When he was ready.

The private hospital room was even more hideous than Shisui had imagined. There was a window by the bed, but for the moment it was closed. Nevertheless, he had never ceased to be amazed by Itachi's skin and its the remarkable capacity to repel external light. Even here at the end, when he was flat and wooden under the awful hospital sheets, hooked up to a nutrient drip that brought to mind sunbright memories. The chalky fluorescent glare couldn't touch him at all. His body ran on a radiance of its own making: invisible to most, but there, and Shisui would like to think that instead of the invasive chemicals being pumped uselessly into his body, it was this luminescence running in his tired veins that was keeping Itachi alive.

Itachi's eyes lifted when he entered. "I didn't really think you would come," he rasped, and before Shisui could properly flinch with guilt, said, "I didn't know if they would let you."

"I defected," Shisui said blithely."They're probably arranging the court martial as we speak. I'm planning to plead permanent insanity."

"If you fetch me a pen, I will provide a written testimonial."

Still his old self, even now the atrophy had eaten at it to almost nothing. His eyes were enormous, made young again by fever as they sank into his face. In retrospect, the signs should have been obvious. Shisui should have seen them, that day under the December sky. They could have had months—but then again, even that wouldn't have been enough. To prevent slipping, a knot depended on friction, and to provide friction, there must be pressure of some sort.

"How is the situation?" Itachi asked.

"It'll be worse before it gets better," Shisui said, taking a seat by the bed. "Sometimes it all comes down to attrition, saving what you can, leaving the rest behind to burn."

A crease appeared between Itachi's brows. Shisui could almost hear his mind turning, like he was completing a thought with every labored breath. "If we don't stop burning our bridges, there won't be anywhere left to return to."

Who said there would be, Shisui thought, but didn't say it. Couldn't even admit it to himself, that sometimes, it was just too late. Mentions of the ongoing war seemed to pull Itachi together a little, once more solidly tangible, outlined against the shadow. It made Shisui wonder if he had ever had Itachi at all, when his heart and lungs and blood had always seemed to live in the flesh of this land beneath their feet. He plunged toward it now, even as Shisui knotted fingers into his thick, still-glossy hair, keened and snarled and refused to let go.

"We're going to win," he said instead, and was surprised that he actually believed it. "Konoha will have peace again. On my honor."

"And what about you?"

"What about me?"

"Will you have peace?" Itachi said. "Will you stay?"

Stay where? Where would he stay? Itachi was the only home Shisui had, storm-wrecked and about to be swallowed up by the waves. What happened to a vessel that lost the only harbor it had ever known? Would it be cast adrift to founder on some treacherous outcrop, or doomed to tread inclement waters until the rats fled and its rudder stuttered to a stop? A ghost ship, legendary for desolation.

None of it was anything he would ever tell Itachi, so Shisui dug up a grin for him and said, "What? You think just because my father fell into an emotional coma and never recovered that I'd end up the same way?"

Too honest. Still too honest.

"Come on, give me some credit," he said, grinning wider still. "It's not like we're married."

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. He was fucking it all up. This was their last conversation and he was making a mess of it. He could see himself crying in Itachi's fever-blanked eyes.

"You don't have to worry about me," Shisui said, swallowing hard around the ache until his voice remembered itself. "I've gotten better at taking care of myself. You don't have to do that anymore."

Something in Itachi's eyes loosened. He lifted his hand with effort, caught Shisui's fingers in his own. "I never did it because I had to."

And that—that was true and true and true. Love engendered many things, but among them was a sense of responsibility. You couldn't turn your back on something like this. You saw it through and then it ruined you. Shisui had spent months running away, and now there was barely time to do what was required of him, so the last thing he said to Itachi ended up being a lie.

"I'll be okay," he said, muttering the words into Itachi's wrist, mouth pressed to the still-skipping vein. "Really, I promise. I won't leave."

Even as he gave body to the words, Shisui knew Itachi wouldn't believe him. But maybe the promise was never the point, because Itachi didn't call him on it. The lips Shisui kissed were pale and cracked, but arranged in a peaceful smile, and that in itself was a much more important kind of promise.

The next day, Shisui returned to the front. A week after that, he received a letter from Mikoto. There was to be a memorial service, simple and hastily thrown together due to the demand of wartime regulations. Shisui knew he wouldn't be able to go. He didn't particularly want to.

In September, Konoha won the war.

Shisui and his troops returned to the village just in time to learn that Sasuke had enlisted in the ANBU. They met outside the Compound's gate after the induction ceremony, where Shisui handed him one of his brother's masks. There always seemed to be a few lying around the apartment, a mundane fact which had used to amuse him endlessly. This one was new, faint with varnish, paint still gleaming on the cypress wood. Not that this seemed to register on Sasuke, who was gripping the mask so tightly the edge could have splintered under his thumb. His broad shoulders strained under the straps of his breastplate, restructuring, growing into them still.

When he looked up, the heatless fire in his eyes shone with an aching familiarity. Even though Shisui felt like his skin was melting off under its intensity, he couldn't help but think that, at least in this way, Itachi lived on, just as he seemed to live under Shisui's skin like a persistent song phrase, stubborn snatches of verse memorized from childhood.

"You know what pisses me off the most?" Sasuke said hollowly. "You made him apologize. That's what he told me when he asked me to go get you. You made him feel sorry for getting sick. For his courage. You made him apologize for dying."

Shisui nodded, because he knew all this already.

"Every time I think about it," Sasuke continued, still in that same inflectionless tone, "it kind of makes me want to kill you. But…"

"But it's not worth it," Shisui completed the sentence for him.

Sasuke froze, eyes wide, and then gave him a curt nod. They parted without a further word.

A month later, Shisui left.

He took the necklace, and the Ogawa love knot Sae had made for him all those years ago, attaching it to a string to go around his neck. It fell to just below his collarbones, visible only as a soft bump beneath his shirt, and even though the fiber had been processed and bleached of toxins, Shisui thought he could feel the nettle thorns biting into him anyway, the skin beneath the knot tearing and blistering lightly from the sting.

On the way out of the village, he kept his finger pressed to the knot, tracing the intricate pattern—two tiny rivers winding around each other, coiling at the heart, with neither beginning nor end.

...

Long ago, everyone laughed together,
but who's left to share this lament now?

People shabby and low, true hearts few,
it's money makes friends. Yellow gold

buys you mourners. They've soon gone
home, though, their tears already dry.

But I mind the heart's old ways: for you,
emptiness broken and scattered away.

...

(Meng Chiao, Laments of the Gorges)


I fully admit to being kind of an asshole. (But it's not my fault Kishi likes to inflict Terminal Illness no Jutsu onto his characters.)

Stromateis means 'patchwork' or 'miscellanies'. Fitting, because there is no cohesion in this. I wrote most of the damn thing in a kind of caffeine-induced fugue state orz

If you liked this fic - and are a fan of Ita/Shi - you might be interested in joining the new livejournal community bitter_nakano, where fans of this pairing gather to engage in flailing, squeeing, and other such intellectual activities. Post your fanworks! We have to build this fandom up from the ground, y'all.