A/N: I've always been really interested in the older-brother motif among the Uchiha clan, and I would love for poor Shisui to have had an older-brother figure as well. There was one very good candidate. Can you guess who? :)
Notes: This is flagrantly AU, because I am an idiot for Obito-survives!fic.
The bells of the Nakano shrine ring twice at dawn. Obito used to think that they rang for each side of the river—once for Konoha, cobwebbing sleep from its sun-drenched forests, its yawning citizens, and once for the borderlands that began on the opposite shore. He has never been able to disentangle the sound of the bell from the grey light of early morning.
The bells are ringing on the morning Shisui is brought to the compound the first time. Years later Obito will remember it like a throbbing in his bones, the subtle shifting of geologic plates. A movement akin to that of stones or planets. Ageless forces, coalescing. Shisui at three is two and a half feet tall in sandals, wholly unthreatening, but Obito has always understood the peculiar aura of genius, as only those who are acutely conscious of its lack can do. He knows what he's looking at.
From within the house, Uchiha Itachi, usually the most silent of infants, begins to cry. And Shisui's head goes up, a quick birdlike movement that will someday become one of his most famous techniques. A thing without name is also without beginning, but there's something nonetheless; a moment at which Obito can say, like this, they found each another—for even then there could have been no other word—and I was there, I was there to see it.
"Who is that?" Shisui asks.
Obito says, "That's your cousin, Itachi," but in later years he will come to believe that he doesn't need to say this. That Shisui, in some way Obito himself will never understand, has already known it, perhaps from the moment he learned his own name.
The clan treats Shisui with the particular unkindness that means he is too important to be extended complete apathy. Shisui had been shuttled across the border by the Kirigakure patrols with a letter in his hand—bloodline massacres have rendered the situation unstable here, and should he manifest his father's sharingan—and so the clan watches him, methodically weighing every day his eyes remain dark against his chances of inclusion. Obito can and in fact does sympathize with this, but Shisui, unlike him, does not actually want to activate his sharingan. This he explains in great detail one day, kicking at the base of Itachi's trundle bed.
"It's stupid," says Shisui venomously. "I don't need the sharingan. My mom, you should see—she has the best shunshin in the world. When I go back to Kiri, she's going to teach me. That's better than your old sharingan any day."
"…Okay, but don't you think it'll be nice to have two special techniques?" asks Obito.
Shisui gives him a look that, sharingan or not, still manages to make his skin crawl with embarassment. This is doubly embarassing because the boy is three, and he's pushing thirteen.
"No," says Shisui. "It's stupid."
"Stupid," repeats Itachi dutifully. Obito doesn't understand what a one-year-old is even gaining from this conversation, but clearly it's the wrong thing. He flushes and leans over the wooden rail of the trundle bed, attempting to do some kind of dutiful damage control so that Uchiha Fugaku won't have even more reason to cull the clan fold a little early this year. "Don't say that!" he admonishes. "That's not a good thing to say, Itachi. Very bad, do you understand?"
"Stupid," Itachi dismisses. He returns to absentmindedly staring at Shisui, which, as far as Obito can see, is all he seems to do when the older child is around. Itachi is not a kinetic baby, but there is a different sort of stillness to his limbs when he is with Shisui. One day Obito observes him draped over Shisui's stomach, not quite asleep, his eyes half-lidded but still trained upon Shisui as if not to miss a moment of his presence. For his part, Shisui treats Itachi with the astonishing brutality customary of older siblings who are very young themselves: he twists Itachi's limbs, attempting to explain something or another, upends his trundle bed to wake him up, slaps him hard on the back of the head when he doesn't comply with some request. Itachi never cries, simply watches, his round baby face turned sharply towards Shisui at all times.
Now Itachi reaches out his hand for Shisui's and begins absently gnawing on his fingers.
"He's biting me," whines Shisui. "Obito-nii, make him stop."
"He's teething," says Obito, because this is what his aunt Mikoto has told him to say. "Just be nice to him. He's probably in a lot of pain."
"Then why isn't he crying?" snaps Shisui, eyeing Itachi with distaste. "Look at him! He's drooling all over my hand!"
Itachi pauses to cast Shisui a blank stare which, as Obito has come to understand, is actually a look of purest admiration.
"I guess he's not crying because he's with you," says Obito, although this sounds stupid even to him. But he's seen Itachi cry (in a methodical, highly mechanized way, but close enough) when he and Shisui make the trek back to their part of the compound, and he highly doubts it's on his account. The only part of Obito Itachi seems to find interesting is his goggles, having spit up milk into them on more than one occasion.
"That's stupid," says Shisui, with absolute certainty. Obito doesn't even want to try to argue with this, so he shrugs.
"You can think whatever you want," he says, "but be nice to him, okay? Look at him. He loves you."
Shisui considers this.
"Ew," he says finally. "Kinda gross."
Obito gingerly extricates his goggles from the baby's grip and gets up. This has to fulfill his brotherly-cousinly-whatever quota of sentimental moments for the day, even if Shisui looks less than convinced, looks in fact, skeptical enough to put Kakashi to shame. Obito ignores this with aplomb.
"Let's go," he says, nicking Shisui by the upturned collar of his shirt. "Inabi-san's family's having you over for dinner today, and you don't want to miss that, do you?"
"Inabi-san's stupid," says Shisui flatly.
"You think everyone is stupid."
"Not you," says Shisui suddenly. "And…" he sneaks a glance at Itachi, who is chewing on his wrist in what can only be described as a tender fashion, "I guess…I guess not Itachi either."
Obito's face breaks out in a raucous, ridiculous grin. Baby steps—but for a brotherly-cousinly-whatever sentimental moment, it's not half bad.
When it's his turn to take Shisui home for whatever makeshift meal he's jury-rigged—usually involving copious amounts of freeze-dried substances and wilting vegetables—he usually lets the younger boy sit on the counter, where they dangle their legs and eat anmitsu straight from the store carton (Obito tries to have at least one nice thing lying around) as Shisui tells stories.
He knows in a dim awkward sort of way that it should be the other way around, but at four Shisui is brimming with stories, eyes liquid with them, so that they fall from his mouth like the little dribbles of juice from his ice cream. Shisui smudges a swipe of sugar from his cheek, fixes Obito with wide, dark eyes.
"My mom, she knows this shunshin—"
And up, up comes his hand, and pulls from the air the shapes of a harbor. Wide white sails. Pert triangles of sun on waves, stretching rectangles of Kirigakure docks. Always mist, turned to glittering cotton by the sun. And through it, so vividly Obito can nearly see it himself, a woman flickering, faster than her laughter, dark curls flashing behind her as she moves.
How she moves, a shuttle weaving form from the ether. Feet just skimming the surface of the water. When she returns Shisui bends and squints at her sandals, which are completely dry. He wrinkles his nose and she says, someday, darling, I'll teach you—
Shisui looks, Obito imagines, quite a bit like the mother he describes so well. He knows nothing about the boy's alleged father, except that Uchiha Shikai was reputed to have been something of a womanizer. It's easy to believe when the proof sits in front of him, scraping away diligently at the last dregs of ice cream. His skin is creamy—vintage Uchiha, Obito notes, almost enough to counterbalance the wild mess of his hair. There is a smattering of freckles around his collarbone. He is small and bright and happy, a little bird in the dark, and Obito, who is a properly-bred Uchiha through and through, thinks to himself that he has never felt a kinship with his clan as strong as he feels for perhaps-not-Uchiha Shisui.
But these are all peripheral considerations. It's the eyes that are important, as he knows all too well. For now, he can keep the little outcast close, hide with him in the lee of the clan's bulwark, but someday, perhaps, Shisui's eyes will turn red. And that day, he thinks, is the day he will lose the illusion of family, and Shisui will gain it.
Summer melts into fall. Itachi's stubborn "Shissey" melts into "Shisui." Obito and Shisui stand in Mikoto's courtyard and make faces at him, and with determined eyes he toddles after them, stating "Shisui" at intervals to punctuate his steps. He never says "Obito," but Obito doesn't mind.
Itachi and Shisui sit together on the porch steps in the sunlight. Itachi's feet are almost too plump for his sandals, but Shisui coaxes them in, talking all the while. We're taking you to the park today and Do you want to watch me go on the swing? and Itachi nods seriously. The sandal straps curl, and Shisui's fingers grab at them—Now look! Look carefully!—and somewhere between Itachi's waiting silence and Shisui's overflow of words, the strap goes in, the sandal slips on, and Itachi stands up, eyes alight with wonder. Shisui will accomplish miracles upon miracles someday, Obito knows, but for Itachi, this will always be his first, and his best.
"There!" says Shisui, oblivious to this. "Aren't you going to say thank you?"
"Thank you, Shisui," says Itachi obediently, and, grinning, Shisui throws his arms around him and thanks him right back.
The thing about dark eyes is that they notice things red ones don't, or so Obito has consistently told himself since he was Shisui's age. Sometimes it's true. When Uchiha Fugaku sits back on his heels in front of his blank-eyed son and intones, "Where did you learn to read?" Obito is wildly entertained. If Fugaku had asked, he could have told him about the winter, when Shisui drew his index finger across a scroll, making words—Look, here's your name. I-tah-chee, see?—and Itachi caught them neatly, small fingers clutching as if to grasp the sounds. Obito could have told him about quiet footsteps in the kitchen, knees scabbed trying to stand on stools—Obito-nii, we can't reach the cupboard—failed experiments, sweet tea with salt in it. He had felt so bad he had gone out to buy them proper sweet tea afterwards, but when he had returned they'd been curled together under the kotatsu, giggling, as it turned out, over the peculiar composition of some kanji or another.
But Fugaku doesn't ask. Uchiha Obito, after all, can't be expected to know about precocious children—for this is, very clearly, what Itachi is. Still, when Fugaku asks his son and Itachi says "Shisui," Obito knows there are going to be problems. One night in early spring Obito stands in the back street behind Fugaku's house, cloak drawn up around his neck, watching the silhouettes of shapes in the lit window as inside, a tiny figure bobs and cries out.
"But I did teach him!" howls Shisui's voice, above the sounds of wind. "I did!"
"Liars are not appreciated among the Uchiha, Shisui-kun," says Fugaku coldly. Obito sees the little silhouette go still, bones pulled tight by frustration. "I don't know what it was like in your mother's family—"
"Don't you dare!" cries Shisui, and then before the little boy can do anything uncommonly stupid, Obito runs forward, slams aside the sliding door, and throws himself at Fugaku's feet in the lowest bow he can manage.
"Please forgive me," he breathes between wooden floorboards. He thinks to himself that he has never really seen his clan head when speaking to him, only the slats of the pinewood boards. Submission smells like varnish and residual dirt. Above him, Uchiha Fugaku's breath makes stormclouds.
"I taught Shisui how to read, and he taught Itachi," says Obito, although he knows this isn't much better. Between two outcasts, the lesser of two evils is indistinguishable. Still, if this will ease the burden for Shisui, it's easily done. He curls his fingers around the smooth boards and waits.
"You did?" asks Fugaku finally. His voice is flat, so thin-pressed there is no room for disdain. "Why?" The implication is clear: you didn't think his own family could do it?
"It was just something to pass the time," Obito says wildly, "Shisui really did teach him. He wasn't lying. I'm deeply sorry that he…lost control of his temper. I'll take better care of him."
Fugaku, as clan head, is too well-bred to voice what Obito knows he's thinking. Trash: a half-blood Uchiha and a useless purebred who has yet to earn the name, presuming to teach his precious son anything. Unthinkable. But he merely casts him a severe look, ignores Shisui entirely, and sweeps away, the bottom of his robes trailing on the floorboards.
Shisui is still shaking with anger. In his fists, little white points, blood stoppered by the force of his fury.
"He insulted my family," he snarls. Even at this age, Uchiha Shisui makes no apologies. Obito reaches out for him and wraps him up in a hug that he is small enough for, although his loose usual posture is stiff and agitated.
"We're your family now," he says into the top of Shisui's head. "Don't get angry, okay? I know you taught Itachi. You did good, don't worry."
He already knows where this will be one of the nights when Shisui will rail and shout and whoever is taking him for the week will knock on Obito's door at some ungodly hour of the morning, and Shisui will say things like why don't they like it when I play with him and I'm an Uchiha too! and Obito won't know what to say at all, because Shisui isn't an Uchiha yet and they both know it. The clan's own children are raised in terms of when; everyone knows they will activate their sharingan, but a half-blood is always an if. There is always a chance that half of Shisui, the half of his blood and bones that are his only inheritance from the worried mother in Kirigakure, will someday seal him away from the clan forever.
"Don't worry," he says again. Shisui's hair against his cheek is scratchy, uncomfortable, but somehow reassuring. For whom, he doesn't know. "We'll be fine."
Two members of the Uchiha clan attend Obito's chuunin exam, which is two more than he expected. Rin points them out to him, and from his place high in the stands, Shisui waves. He is six years old. He pokes an elbow into Itachi's side and Itachi, too, raises his hand and flutters his hand courteously. Obito grins at them, unfettered, because it's true that Rin's entire family has turned out, and Kakashi, away on some mission or another, can't be there for them, but still, two Uchiha have come to see him. He stops to consider how pathetic it is that the actions of elementary-schoolers have such a ridiculous effect on him, then decides that he doesn't really care. He sniffles. Rin casts him a disturbed look.
"I—I'm okay!" he assures hurriedly. "It's just—my cousins—"
Rin looks up towards them and smiles. Shisui appears to be showing Itachi how to use nin-wire to steal someone's hat, which is something anyone would smile at, because it is clearly the height of endearing. Even Itachi appears amused.
Afterwards, Obito finds them waiting in the family greeting area, holding hands and trying not to sneak solemn-eyed looks at the adult ninja around them. Shisui's chest is so puffed up Obito doesn't understand why he doesn't fall over.
"You did good," he says importantly, when Obito shows him the seal he received after winning his fight.
"You did," repeats Itachi, who hasn't really been able to break the habit of repeating whatever Shisui says.
"I don't have a sharingan," Obito reminds them, feeling compelled to pay his dues in the form of obligatory Uchiha propaganda. "It's disgraceful. Not much of a fight."
In the way of prodigies, they don't seem to believe him at all. They continue to insist that his accomplishment is noteworthy enough that he should treat them to dango, and, when he receives his flak jacket a month later, for them to be allowed to try it on. The first time the jacket is worn, it's Itachi who wears it. It comes down to his knees. When the picture is taken he is unable to hide the bewildered, pleased expression on his tiny face, and Shisui and Obito wear grins as wide as the Nakano behind them. The bell tolls, two sounds in the space of one, but within the world of the image sound is lost, and only the smiles remain.
Obito wants to tell Shisui many things, but the fact that Shisui is far more intelligent than he ever was at his age means the number of things he can say is sadly limited. But when the war comes upon them, dark and sweeping like the shadow of a great bird, he finds that the decision has already been made for him.
Whatever you do, don't leave each other behind.
Two months later, he learns that out of all the things Shisui was told—filter water before drinking, don't talk to strangers, don't leave the shelter—he listened to this. Konoha comes alight with a heroic tale like so many others of wartime, but this time, important to Obito because of certain snatches, like song refrains:
—Kirigakure bastard, that's what I heard—
—saved his cousin, the Uchiha heir—
The story comes in fits and starts, as wartime stories do, but Obito tracks down rumors with a crazed devotion until he pieces it together for himself, like a macabre quilt—the isolated shelter, an easy target for looters, and the morning Itachi and Shisui were left alone, when Iwa foragers broke in and came face to face with Uchiha Shisui's brand new sharingan.
Obito's team, including the newly-appointed Fourth Hokage himself, goes with him to visit the little clan hero. Themselves, they have done nothing heroic—once Kakashi threw his kunai, Minato was there, so it was their teacher who incapacitated Rin's attacker and destroyed Iwa's last bridge, a routine mission with his involvement. But Shisui, an upright figure in a mess of bandages and white medical clothing, is something of an accomplishment himself. Obito feels a strange rush of pride, swelling inside his bones as if he will burst, splattering gobbets of bright light over everyone assembled. For Shisui is shaking and raw, mouth still half-open as if his screams will claw their way back in, but there is a safe, supine form in the cot beside him, and this is all he seems to see.
"I didn't leave him behind," he babbles. "Just like you said, Obito-nii, I didn't leave him behind, and he's okay, I hope he's okay, he has to be okay—"
"You did very well, Shisui-kun," says Namikaze Minato. "I know you'll be one of my best shinobi, won't you?"
Shisui looks at them, slightly cross-eyed with the pain of his new sharingan.
"—needs to be okay," he's mumbling. "I said 'katon,' so there was fire, it burned them. They stayed away from him. They looked at me. I burned them and I burned my eyes. Burning, burning—"
Rin darts forward. "He needs to rest," she says, medical authority overriding the scared girl in her voice. "He's hallucinating, probably because of—because of the sharingan—"
In her averted eyes, Obito reads the entire history of his clan's disappointment. He is almost sixteen. Shisui is six.
You already knew, he tells himself. You already knew what he would be.
In the bed in front of him, however, the little prodigy, the youngest person ever to activate the sharingan, has padded soft footsteps over to his cousin's bed, where he has laid his forehead on the bedclothes at Itachi's side and cries softly into the sheets. Obito catches his mouth moving; wartime teaches the young how to pray.
He moves towards Shisui and wraps his arms around his back. The little body is wracked with exhaustion and sobbing and chakra depletion. Tears in red eyes wash the sharingan out. Obito fists his hands in Shisui's shirtsleeves, holds on tight.
"I'm really proud of you," he says, because this is the single person in the clan who would be affected by his pride at all. He murmurs reassurances into his curls. When he looks up, Rin is watching them. Their eyes meet. She moves forward and gives them both a draught of water. When Obito reaches his hand out for the cup, she takes his chin and gives it to him herself, a little bit dribbling over his lips. He's never felt so inane. He's never felt so happy.
To Shisui, he says, "Come on. Let's go check on our cousin."
The boy who told stories to stave off loneliness becomes a hero in an instant. At first, Shisui is pale and drawn, screaming whenever anyone attempts to take him from Itachi's side, but when Uchiha Fugaku himself shows up and presents him with an Uchiha crest for the back of his shirt, he comes out of the tent, bows, looks curious. Then his face fills with delight. Next to Obito on the mattress, he twists and turns with excitement as Rin appliqués the crest to his high-necked shirt. He has little interest in the sharingan, but he has a great deal of interest in the fact that he is welcome at any table now, that he will be allowed to play with Itachi whenever he wants. That now, he is unquestioningly referred to as 'Uchiha Shisui,' not 'boy' or 'Kiri bastard' or any number of names he has picked up in backstreets, scraped from the undersides of his feet like old used gum.
"It looks good on me," says Shisui. "Because I'm an Uchiha."
He thinks his mother will be proud of this.
Obito is furious. But even as he opens his mouth to tell Shisui something half-chewed and ill-considered about being cautious of the clan, about being careful in what he chooses to love, he feels ashamed. There is a hot shimmer of jealousy sometimes, watching the clan who shunned them both touch Shisui's cheeks and tousle his curls, and later, in hearing Shisui spin his stories. The tale grows more and more grandiose every time he tells it. Watching him, clan members sometimes sneak sideways glances to Obito, glances that say he's allowed whatever he wants and this is genius, what are you?
Next to Shisui in the cot, Itachi adjusts his bandages and stares, unblinking. His eyes are ringed with dark circles; he stays awake almost every night, forcing himself from the brink of sleep for fear of nightmares.
For Itachi, Shisui tells different stories. Unlikely ones. Birds with silver wings. Music rising from the ocean. Women with hair like the surface of soap bubbles, iridescent with every color named. At night, Shisui spins them a world in which the war did not happen. Obito is the only one to recognize that this, Shisui's tired eyes fluttering open as Itachi asks for another story, is a sacrificeperhapsgreater than any other made in the war.
"Once upon a time," says Shisui, and slowly, like the sea in its sediments, the waves rise, shrouding them from view. Stars spin across the surface of the water. "Once upon a time," says Shisui, and they close their eyes and forget death and the dead alike.
Two years, and the Kyuubi attack makes a fall of shattered images.
Such as: his teacher's funeral wreath disintegrating into petals on the water. Chrysanthemum petals. Separating and spreading into a lazy whirl, as the candles seep liquid light into the water. Like tendrils of sunlight. Or blood.
Such as: a house with its walls all collapsed. A fallen deck of playing cards. In the wreckage, strange things—bedroom slippers, or addressed envelopes, or once, something that looks like a doll.
Such as: a mouth open in the dark. Wet cave of a scream. Hideous and endless, like the eternal emptiness behind a torn-out eye.
Such as: his cousins. Aboveground, helpless, lost—and himself, seventeen, with that crushing feeling of uselessness raining down around him like the sky can no longer hold itself up.
The other ones shatter into hairline cracks, a stone somewhere in the universe flung through his mind, but the last one stays whole, and its smooth glasslike surface glints in his dreams at night for years afterward.
When Shisui confides to him that he hates little Uchiha Sasuke with all his heart and wishes he would just go back where he came from and stop monopolizing Itachi's attention, Obito takes him to Itachi's house and lets him play with Sasuke for a while himself. Shisui's efforts are rewarded in a moment of karmic justice, when Sasuke looks over at Itachi, giggles, and bites his brother's hand so hard the marks remain for days.
"Maybe he's not so bad," Shisui snickers. "Man, did you see Itachi's face—"
The katon technique is the last real advantage Shisui has to lord over Itachi, although the list of things that can fit this particular description dwindles with every passing picosecond. Still, Obito is more than a little surprised when one day at the Yondaime memorial Itachi casually sends a little flame swirling off the tip of his finger—elegant, older-boy chic, four years earlier than Obito could do it himself, so that Obito practically weeps at the sheer unfairness of it all. Itachi then turns to him and maddeningly asks if he may light the memorial candle, as if he hasn't just come of age like everyone in the clan's been waiting for him to do since he was a clump of ambiguous uteral matter.
Obito means to say something to this effect, but it somehow comes out as, "Yeah, go for it!"
Itachi takes the candle and goes about lighting it and setting it up at the family shrine. Shisui is smiling at him with a wide encouraging grin, and Obito realizes that he's been in on this in some way, and that they've both planned this. He boggles uselessly at them.
"I have you to thank for this," says Itachi, following Shisui's encouraging nod. Obito starts.
"The katon," explains Itachi, and holds up his index finger with the little flame singing on its tip, such gossamer-fine chakra control he could thread a needle with it, or maybe even sew an entire spring collection.
"Are you making fun of me?" exclaims Obito. His katons still come out looking like something that belongs in a toilet. It's not his fault; he had to teach himself, after all, but—really. "I didn't teach you that! If I could do katons like that, you honestly think mine'd look like shi—like…poo?"
This entire conversation is ruining his glamorous-older-cousin image, if he ever had any such thing to begin with, but he figures they still have a few more years before he's honor-bound to corrupt his cousins' language habits and general innocence. If Shisui doesn't do it himself first.
"No," agrees Itachi. "But I did watch you." He shoots Shisui an awkward sideways glance.
And suddenly Obito feels like he's going to scream crazily but he's not; it's a weirder feeling than that, like eating pure sugar; he suddenly can't taste anything in his mouth except the stretched-out taffy of his dropped jaw. Because they're Uchiha, and watching someone for a technique is something you only do when the person in question is the best of the best, worthy of imitation—flawless. Someone you want to be. He watched his teacher. He watched Kakashi. Elated, his mind dances all along the implicatory dot-to-dot, and—a first-time experience, when dealing with his prodigious cousins—draws him a picture that's not actually that hideous-looking.
Well. Not bad. Not bad at all.
He realizes Itachi is still staring at him, politely waiting for him to make some idiotic comment like "You're welcome" or any equally brainless equivalent, but he's not going to fall into this obvious mantrap. Here is an opportunity to impart sage advice that will linger in Itachi's mind and inform the development of his psyche for years to come.
"Well, I…You're welcome."
He hates himself. He wants to bite his tongue off and offer it to the Yondaime, except that his teacher surely wouldn't appreciate such a useless gift. Itachi simply nods gravely and extinguishes his katon.
Shisui, next to him, grins and tosses an arm around his shoulders.
"Great," he says. "Let's go to dinner."
"Would you like to come to my house?" asks Itachi immediately. He isn't addressing Obito.
"I'm going home with Obito-nii," says Shisui sweetly. "Maybe we can go visit Rin-san." Obito gives him a sidelong glance. Lately Shisui has been acting so innocent in this matter that it seems wholly suspicious, probably because it is.
"Next time, okay?"
Rin is pleased to see them, as if random Uchiha clan debris washing up at her door is a routine occurrence. Obito makes an idiot of himself upending an entire tureen of soup over her apron and knocking over a tray filled with cookie batter, which means he has to take them all on an impromptu trip to the yakiniku restaurant. Shisui makes his hands sticky attempting to wrap several sugar cubes in a napkin for Itachi.
"He's really devoted to his cousin, isn't he," asks Rin, as they sit at the table and watch him surrepititiously sneaking more sugar cubes into the napkin while the counter girl's back is turned.
"Yeah," says Obito. "I think it's an Uchiha thing."
"Well, you're very much an Uchiha, then, aren't you?" asks Rin, smiling suddenly. She is orderly, the creases in her uniform sharp, and her hair brushed back neatly behind her ears. Were Obito to imagine what she might look like on a date, he wouldn't change a single aspect of the scene. The word Uchiha in her mouth is unexpectedly wrong.
"Not with Shisui," he says, and is surprised when she reaches across the table, and takes his hand.
Shisui thinks it's about time.
"You're like nine thousand years old," he says patiently. "It's a good thing you have a girlfriend now."
"What is a girlfriend," asks Itachi, pausing in his unnerving kunai-sorting to ask the vital question.
"I'm nineteen, okay?" stammers Obito. "And a girlfriend is…uh…"
"It's when Rin-san and Obito-nii hang out but no one else is allowed to go with them," explains Shisui with great authority.
"Can I be your girlfriend?" asks Itachi immediately, and Obito nearly falls off the pier and into the water.
"Sure," says Shisui, and tugs on Itachi's ponytail. Itachi smiles—sweetly, uncomfortably, for Itachi's smile is a strange secret little thing that peeks out and recedes just as quickly—and returns to categorizing his kunai by length, weight, and apparently shininess, although Obito is sure this is not a word and makes a mental note to ask Itachi what his criteria actually are. The sun spangles the water, and Shisui shades his eyes, muttering. His kunai are tossed on the pier in no semblance of order, but Obito knows that, when the opportunity arises, Shisui is a faster draw than Itachi or himself.
"So," says Obito. "Academy tomorrow, huh?"
"Yep," says Shisui.
Shisui shakes his head. He is uncharacteristically quiet. Obito's senses are immediately alert; spotting tension in the little shoulders, a pout that Rin would undoubtedly characterize as ridiculously adorable, which he refuses to do despite the fact that it is. Shisui dangles his feet as he once dangled them against his countertop. His wide eyes, observant, still the little storyteller's, are fixed upon some point in the distant trees.
Obito doesn't know anything about giving advice, except that the single time he did it, Shisui landed in the hospital for a month, with a fucking sharingan, which is just an irony to end all ironies. What he does know enough to recognize is that already the clan has an iron fist around Shisui's lungs. At nine, Shisui's cleverness is a quiet, careful thing, leaking under doorways and between the cracks in walls, disguising itself with smiles and the dizzying worlds of the stories he still tells. Itachi's genius is straightforward; Obito is consistently reminded of Kakashi. He solves puzzles diligently for the amusement of clan elders. Recites memorized rules in front of his father. Shisui, to Obito's knowledge, has never done any of these things—and yet he knows everything Itachi does and more besides, subtly correcting his cousin's grip or crossing out a misspelled word, showing him the right way when, as far as Obito knows, Shisui has never learned it himself.
It frightens him at times, and so he gives Shisui the only advice he really knows; the way he has survived in the confluence of expectation and biological chance they've come to call a clan.
"Don't let it get to you," he says. "And if it stresses you out, come over whenever. I'll take you fishing or something, okay?"
"Okay," says Shisui. He looks straight at Obito for a moment, which is disorienting, because Shisui has eyes that cut straight to the bone. "We'll do that."
Behind them, the tone of Itachi's kunai is like the ringing of infinite, tiny bells.
One morning in the middle of an Academy lecture, Uchiha Shisui stands up, flickers, and vanishes. The students dissolve into a cacophony of screams and several teachers panic. Shisui himself is later discovered sitting on top of a training post, reading a civilian novel with an apathy so complete it cannot possibly be anything but calculated.
"It's a clan technique," Obito explains for the sixth time. In front of him, Uchiha Fugaku's face is carved in stone. "From his mother's side. He told me."
"That doesn't explain how he learned it," Fugaku snaps. "Shisui-kun has a fine sharingan. When he wastes his time on this kind of frivolity, his…questionable parentage becomes a subject of discussion for Konoha in general. Have you been training with him?"
"What? No, Fugaku-sama, I don't train with—"
"Ah, yes," says Fugaku, his deep voice thinning slightly with distaste. "What could you have to teach the likes of him?"
Obito's jaw drops. This is true, but no one has ever articulated it. All at once warnings spangle the inside of his mind, thudding in his chest and sending tremors up his arms, get out, get out get out—
"Twenty years old and still no sharingan," says Fugaku softly, still in the same expressionless voice. "Tell me, Obito-kun, how does it feel, that a nine-year-old boy is the only one who considers you a member of this clan?"
"Stop it," comes suddenly, clearly. Obito whirls. Itachi is standing in the doorway, a scroll in his hand and a brush trailing ink onto the floor. Drip, drip. Blood on a knife.
"Shisui has been practicing that shunshin since he was four, tou-san," says Itachi. His voice is as flat as his father's. Obito feels a snatch of shame, fluttering in his throat like a moth caught there, because he didn't know, he didn't know at all, and all the while Shisui has been flickering across the fields at night, invoking the name of a mother he barely remembers.
"Why?" demands Fugaku.
"It is part of him," says Itachi simply. "As much as the sharingan."
"Shisui is the most promising child in the clan—"
"Then let him do what he wants," says Itachi. "Tou-san."
Quite abruptly he steps back, bows, and leaves, walking backward, but eyes radiating disrespect. Obito turns his face to the floorboards. Alternating patterns, dust and nicks he knows so well. The last time he will look at them like this again, head bowed before a man he cannot respect.
"I didn't know," he repeats.
Fugaku says, "Get out."
Two members of the Uchiha clan come to help Obito move to an apartment in the civilian district. Shisui cries unashamedly while moving boxes. Obito points out the fastest way to get to his new place, and says that he and Itachi had better come visit him every week or so help him, he's going to start lurking around the Academy grounds and probably court-martialed for stalking minors, and considering his questionable record already, this isn't doing anyone any favors.
"We're graduating next week," says Shisui. "You'll come, won't you?"
"I'll come," promises Obito. "But visit, okay? It's just ten minutes, jumping rooftops."
Shisui flashes a lopsided grin.
"Two minutes for me, then," he says. "No worries, Obito-nii. We'll be around."
And so, even as he snips the fan crest from his last shirt, Obito feels as if he hasn't really moved out at all.
Shisui's genin team can't start a sentence without "Shisui-kun says…" This includes his teacher. Every time Obito stops by Interrogations, Yamanaka Inoichi regales him with "Obito-kun! You'll never guess what that cousin of yours said today…"
Shisui-kun says shooting stars aren't stars. Shisui-kun says kunai go faster if you turn them sideways. Shisui-kun says if you drop a stone and a feather off the Hokage tower, they hit the ground at the same time—
The single time Itachi is required to associate with Shisui's genin teammates, he is so uncharacteristically vindictive that he terrifies Uzuki Yuugao to tears.
"Don't worry," Obito tells him, feeling surprisingly, suicidally cheerful, "you'll always be his first girlfriend."
Itachi casts him a deadpan look, pulls his forehead protector on, and knots it tight with such force the metal plate snaps off.
Shisui isn't much better.
"Umino Iruka and Inuzuka Hana?" he snaps, when he reads Itachi's teammates off the roster. "The fuck? Did they design this team for optimal suck-up potential, or what? Someone's going to get some horrible venereal disease from all the ass-kissing going around."
"Shisui-kun!" gasps Rin, and Obito immediately pretends he wasn't sniggering.
Indeed, Team Ibiki's mission roster swells with textbook-perfect B and C rank missions, glowing feedback from clients, and injuries so minor as to be almost laughable. Team Inoichi, on the other hand, retains its lackluster mission record until one day, without warning, Shisui strolls blithely into the Hokage tower and turns in a completed A-rank scroll.
"Just handing in our paperwork," he says, smiling winsomely at the speechless chuunin on duty. "Later."
Immediately, Morino Ibiki reveals that one of his genin has been coercing his team to take an A-rank mission as well, and within the week, Itachi has tossed his own scroll on the table, the tilt of his chin slightly disdainful. Behind him, his teammates look absolutely traumatized. Iruka is actually whimpering.
"Isn't he cute?" says Shisui fondly to Obito.
"He's trying to get your attention," says Obito.
"I know. It's really adorable, don't you think?"
Obito thinks traveling at high speeds has clearly unhinged Shisui's mind, but he reassures him that, sure, his demented cousin showing off for his benefit is the height of adorable and not psychologically unsettling at all. Soon after this, Rin reports that Itachi was seen suspiciously loitering around her wing of the hospital while Shisui was getting a minor burn treated, and, when asked, awkwardly assured her that he had a splinter in his finger, and the fact that she could not see it was no guarantee that it wasn't there.
"Why doesn't someone just send them on a mission together?" she asks. "There's been something about a coup in Kirigakure—the Hokage's been talking about sending a recon team, and their record's certainly good enough…"
"You're the jonin," says Obito. "Want to suggest it?"
She does. Before the month is out, history has been made.
"Tell me again what the Hokage said," says Obito.
"Single-handedly quelling a coup was not in the mission description, Shisui-kun, Itachi-kun," booms Shisui, in a melodramatic voice, "I'm going to have to dock your pay," and they collapse again, tears streaming from their eyes as they laugh and laugh and laugh.
The clan gives up. Shunshin no Shisui and the Kirigakure Coup becomes such a popular story around Konoha (which, Obito confides to Rin, seems to say something about the misguided priorities of shinobi villages in general) that the clan appears to want some of the publicity. Shortly after this Fugaku is seen glibly extolling the virtues of Shisui's signature shunshin, assuring a crowd of rapt Uchiha clansmen that Shisui made the technique up out of his charming little prodigy brain, perhaps not in those exact words.
Itachi is both disapproving and humble, a combination which Obito would never have thought possible if proof weren't sitting at his table, discreetly misusing the sharingan to help Rin mend a stack of medical uniforms. Obito is sanding the countertops. These domestic regularities are still surprising to him; since Rin moved in they have become familiar, almost unnerving in their dependability. The only missions he takes nowadays are menial ones to keep up with his bills and afford the occasional dinner out, so Itachi and Shisui's visits carry a touch almost of glamor, and of a nostalgia that has steeped to the point where it no longer hurts him.
"It was not as successful as Shisui would have you believe," says Itachi, folding another uniform adroitly and handing it to Rin. "Two of the perpetrators escaped. Momochi Zabuza and Hoshigaki Kisame."
"Whatever," says Shisui. He is lounging on the window sill and accomplishing absolutely nothing productive. Obito throws a dusting cloth at his head. "They're missing-nin now, so Kiri ANBU can take care of them."
"Kirigakure is highly unstable," comments Itachi.
"It wasn't that bad," and Itachi and Obito look at one another, remembering in a quiet rush that Shisui's ties to Kirigakure have little to do with missions. Now he palms his dusting cloth and rubs absently at a spot of dirt on a cabinet, mouth making a thin, displeased parabola. Later, Itachi will tell Obito in halting words how Shisui prolonged the mission to comb the Kiri countryside. He had made an ostentatious display of his shunshin in public, and had flickered over the harbor at night. Too-bright eyes, voice like a searchlight.
Later Obito will do something he hasn't done in years: stand in front of Shisui's window and peer in, narrowing his eyes against the lamplight, to watch Shisui sort mission papers. Watch him draw his finger down old maps, some blood-spattered, tracing clan lineages and searching for a name he barely remembers. At times like these, the storyteller he once was is still apparent—for Obito knows that to do this Shisui must create a new reality inside his mind, one in which the woman flying over the water still exists, and now, grown up and able in his own right, a son sent away will fit his aching heart into the other half of his being.
Immediately after the Kirigakure coup, Itachi and Shisui are shuttled into the chuunin exam and earn their vests with high honors, and yet, the day of the announcement, they come to Obito's apartment to celebrate not their promotion, but the fact that Rin has agreed to marry him.
"We could have done that exam with our eyes shut," says Shisui flippantly. "Now this—this is something worth celebrating."
This, too, is a mark of genius—that after a while, all victories become hollow. Beside Shisui, Itachi's face is composed into a mask of what he probably thinks is pleasant congratulation, but Obito remembers only his dead eyes after the war. Hugging him, Rin casts worried glances at Obito.
"He really doesn't want to do this," he says to Shisui later, as they wash dishes. "Just—just make sure you take care of him."
Shisui's eyes narrow.
"I always have," he says. "Nobody has but me."
In the summer of his fourteenth year, Shisui seems to discover the fine art of acting like a complete fucking sleaze. He and Obito are kicked out of bars and restaurants alike until, at fourteen, his body catches up with his libido and begins to grow. Bones straighten. His hair falls differently, the messy profusion of curls seeming suddenly obscene. An adolescent voice slips and breaks and rights itself again, and as simply as that, Uchiha Shisui is his adult self.
They don't get kicked out of restaurants anymore, because now, when Shisui tosses out his stupid lines, they work.
Obito tells himself he doesn't care that much because he is a true and faithful lover and Rin has always had eyes for the dependable type, but when he catches her giggling and blushing ridiculously over Sometimes it's fast enough to leave my clothes behind, he decides he'd better have a talk with the Uchiha compound's resident lady-killer before someone actually gets killed, probably Shisui himself.
"So you're…growing," he begins awkwardly over jasmine rice, and Shisui casts him an amused glance from under a net of eyelashes no less dangerous than any nin-wire Academy trap.
"I'm fourteen, Obito-nii," says Shisui. "I'm a force of nature."
"Puberty's a force of nature," grumbles Obito. "And listen, you should start keeping that force of nature in your pants, maybe, before someone decides to—"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," says Shisui serenely, scooping up some rice and running his tongue around his chopsticks in an unnecessarily exhibitionist fashion. "It can't be about when I came to return your soldering kit, because I was just telling Rin-san about some of the drawbacks of my signature shunshin. She seemed very interested. You should be happy you've got such a conscientious fiancee, Obito-nii."
"You're a brat," says Obito flatly. "Stay away from my girlfriend. And, you know. Everybody else's girlfriends."
Shisui waves his hand in a gesture with which a princess might wave a white handkerchief, not that Obito has ever actually seen this take place. "I'm not interested in anyone's girlfriend," says Shisui.
"Really? Who are you interested in, then?"
Shisui smiles stunningly enough to blind a lesser man, and holds his plate out for more rice.
Itachi, predictably, is completely immune to Shisui's transformation. He remains silent through Wanna see my body flicker, stoically ignores I can do things to your head, and barely blinks in the face of I don't do everything fast. But he jerks as if burned when Shisui so much as lays a hand over his shoulder, and this, as Obito knows very well, is more telling than all the things he doesn't say.
Itachi blossoms the winter after he turns thirteen. One week the tap of his brush against his lips is routine, the gesture of a student, and the next it is somehow so beautiful that no one in the house can look away. The curve of his jawline tightens. When he wears his ANBU trainee uniform in the streets, people stare. Obito is unable to put a name to what has happened to his cousin, but Shisui does.
"He got hot!" wails Shisui. "How could he do that?"
You did, Obito wants to say. It was inevitable. Itachi and Shisui have always grown like this, waiting for one another's footsteps forward. The same tides pull them back and forth, their skin, their skeletons, joined in a way Obito still can't measure. Perhaps he never will.
"He wasn't supposed to get hot," moans Shisui. "It's going to be so awkward."
"It won't," says Obito. "It's just Itachi."
There has never really been a just Itachi, but for Shisui, this is enough. He nods sulkily, and Obito thinks it's fine, perhaps nothing will change.
Still, one night in spring, Shisui runs all the way to Obito's apartment, a normal, loping run, nothing like his shunshin. He throws open Obito's door and dances around the table and flings windows wide. He lifts Rin off her feet and cooks dinner for everyone (and burns it, but this is negligible) and wastes an entire container of rice flinging it into the air and yelling. When Obito, exasperated, tries to shuttle him out the door, he seizes his hand and dances with him all the way to the corner convenience store, where he buys them both flamboyant pink ice creams and makes Obito finish every drop.
"I'm in love," says Shisui, and Obito chokes on his ice cream stick.
"Uh," he offers, trying not to look stupid, which is particularly taxing when one has pink liquid dribbling down his chin. "That's—who's the lucky—"
And Shisui turns, flashing a smile that nearly makes Obito drop the ice cream.
"You have to ask?" says his young cousin, and then Obito can't help but laugh as well.
From there, it takes only one joint field mission, and then Obito hears from Kakashi that Uchiha Itachi has been walking around the ANBU headquarters bumping into things and turning red whenever Uchiha Shisui's name is mentioned. These rumors are confirmed when Shisui actually shows up in front of the ANBU headquarters, ensconces himself in a low-hanging tree, and belts out about ten verses of a horrible, soppy folk ballad before Itachi finally loses patience and sets his uniform on fire. The fact that Itachi allowed ten verses to go by is the most telling aspect of the entire situation.
"I think it's lovely," says Rin, giggling at Obito's account of this debacle.
"No, silly! They're destined," and she gets a disturbingly misty look in her eyes. Obito nearly understands why everyone was so frustrated by his goggles situation growing up.
"…I guess," he says finally.
He doesn't want to agree with her, but secretly, he thinks destined is really the only word that fits.
But for Obito, their love story only earns that name for itself the day Shisui comes home from another Kirigakure mission, at last clutching an urn of ashes and a mortuary notice. His voice is flat and feral as he says, "I found her."
That night he rails and destroys things as he did in his childish rages, and Obito once again stands outside his window and waits for the moment to intervene. Before he can do this, however, he sees the window on the opposite side slide open. Itachi is in the room. Shisui's mouth makes angry shapes, and then his voice rises, audible even through the walls. Harsh words, thrown with the calculated speed and velocity of kunai. Not like you'd get it and orphaned and others, all alien, all true for years but faced only now, a secret that has finally bled out from between Shisui's fingers. In the midst of this maelstrom Itachi stands—tiptoe, for Shisui is still taller than he is—and whispers something into Shisui's neck. There is a frozen moment, all webbed and cracked like glass breaking and fragmenting. And then Shisui himself shatters, hands clutching wildly at the fabric of Itachi's blue shirt and sobs fracturing, glittering against their skin like clear powder, red blood. Pain and power, this is their legacy, and they cling to one another as they once did in the eye of the war. The framed window throws a patch of light in front of the door. Shisui's lips find Itachi's. Their eyes close, effortless. Their bodies, curving together, are so natural it takes a moment for Obito to realize he probably shouldn't be watching.
He jerks and sneaks a last guilty glance at his cousins, mouths melded together. Shisui will be all right. And in the acknowledgment of this statement, the potential makes it real; it is, in fact, already true.
Obito wonders briefly if he should sit Itachi down and give him the sort of talk Rin's father gave him when he was nineteen—break her heart and I'll break your face—since Shisui doesn't really have anyone else to do it, and decides that he will if Fugaku gives Shisui a similar lecture. The thought of this actually happening is traumatizing, so he figures he's safe. He settles for clapping Shisui on the back in what he assumes is a manly fashion and assuring him that he'll walk him down the aisle, assuming that no one gets lynched for incestuous behavior before either of them comes of age. Instead of socking him in the face as any normal soul would at this remark, Shisui merely smirks in a slightly embarassed fashion and plays around with his hair, which, Obito notes with a maniacal eye, looks even more suspiciously disheveled than usual.
Obito doesn't say that he's oddly grateful that this happened at all, in no way he can really articulate. What he can articulate is that he remembers the clan turned out in formal regalia, serving expensive food on china dishes, on the occasion of Itachi's first kill, when the boy had locked himself in his room and refused to come out even for the ceremonial toasts. Shisui had coaxed him out with promises of afternoons at the lake and fishing expeditions and other things that had nothing to do with enemy shinobi leaking blood and vomit over Itachi's hands, but by then it had been too late; Itachi's face had already shut like a closed door.
The clan doesn't celebrate things. It commemorates them. Because of this, Itachi has forgotten what the act of celebration actually is.
But Rin makes up trays and trays of desserts, and Obito grills all the fish Itachi and Shisui bring home from the river, and one summer night they sit at the edge of the fields and watch the darkness creep over Konoha from the east, swathes of cloud and shadow bleeding pink at the edges. In the grass, the lazy whine of mosquitoes. No dishes; they eat sticky-fingered and childish, and Rin's head on his shoulder has all the weight of a benevolent responsibility. Itachi and Shisui argue absently over some sort of economic sanction in Sunagakure. Their hands tangle together over dry grass, and Obito thinks: this is as it was meant to be, this is as it has always been. Against the night, their heads together are something like the stars that meet and meld in constellations, miles above. Within them, the burden of genius is lifted. Obito shifts, and Rin strokes the knot of cloth at his sleeve.
"You can't imagine them with anyone else," she whispers, and this—this has always been so true that Obito is surprised to hear it, a fact, released at last into in the open air.
On the day Obito hands in his resignation notice and quits shinobi life altogether, he is surprised that it's Itachi who comes to see him first.
"I have also been thinking of resigning," says Itachi unexpectedly. His voice is steady, but his fingers clutch nervously at the long rope of his hair.
"Itachi?" asks Obito. "W-what's wrong?"
But Itachi says nothing more.
Ten minutes after he leaves, Shisui appears, running normally, not using his shunshin. His hair is disheveled. "Where is he?" he snaps at Obito. "I need to talk to him."
"He just left," says Obito. "What—"
"Tell him—oh, fuck," and Shisui twists his hand into his hair, appearing almost crazed. On his shoulder, the glint of his police emblem winks. Shisui had joined the force shortly after learning of his mother's death. Now the four-pointed star emblazons every piece of clothing he owns. Shisui is unsuited for deputy work. Sometimes Obito passes him in the road, leading some citizen away by his silver handcuffs, looking sullen and irritated and not at all like himself. One day he snapped at Rin for taking too long to lead a medical team to a crime scene before coming to his senses and apologizing politely, even sending a bouquet of flowers to the house the next day. Obito had run his hands carefully over the stems. An earthy scent rose from the blossoms, and in Shisui's deft handwriting, the apology was terse, nothing like the abundance of the gift.
Nothing like Shisui at all, really, and Obito has known this for quite some time. He thinks perhaps Itachi has, too, and this is why he has been spending so much more time at ANBU headquarters. There is talk of full promotion soon. None of them discuss it, just as they don't discuss the other technique Shisui seems to have developed—the one that turns brothers against one another, friends against friends, lovers against lovers. None of them discuss how Shisui tells his stories now, in blood and deception.
"What have you two been doing?" asks Obito uncertainly, and then he is stunned into silence by Shisui's eyes, spinning, wild red bleeding at the edges. A boundary is crossed, and long-ago voices call, this is genius, what are you—
Please don't say it, Shisui, he thinks. Please, please—
"It's Uchiha business," says Shisui, every word knocking nails into wood, one after another, "and you have no right to know."
Shisui apologizes like his old self this time, head slammed against the ground in bow after bow, and Obito is so uncomfortable he hauls him to his feet by his police vest. "Don't do that," he says, "You were right, I'm not Uchiha anymore. I'm not even shinobi."
"It's just that it's classified," says Shisui, sounding raw from the inside, as if his voice is slicing him to ribbons from within his chest, knocking against his heart and his ribs and shattering the points along his spine that have kept him upright for so long. "Or I would tell you, Obito-nii, you know I would."
"It's okay," says Obito. "They're family," and since the Kiri mission, this has been true. The Uchiha are Shisui's family now. Obito remembers him thrashing and raging against his chest as a tiny boy, cupping worlds within worlds to hold his heartache, recoiling from his loneliness as he knows he has always been afraid he will have to do again, someday. Once Obito had wished that Shisui would leave as he had done, but now he knows the impossibility of this. Shisui is only fifteen. He remembers being an outcast. He will not survive it again.
"I'm all Uchiha now," says Shisui. "Now that there's—there's no one else. I wish Itachi would understand that."
"He understands," says Obito, although he isn't quite sure that Itachi does. Itachi is still a boy watching as a cousin slips his foot into his sandal, holding the miracle in his quiet eyes whenever he looks at Shisui, and Obito knows that Shisui is enough for him, has always been enough. He has been able to live in a world he hates for thirteen years because of Shisui, and he will not be able to understand why he is not enough in turn.
"If you were doing something stupid," says Obito suddenly, and then he doesn't care about the emblem of genius, the destiny that has written itself in Shisui's wide storytellers' eyes since he was young, "I wouldn't tell you to take care of yourself, because I know you can."
"Thanks," says Shisui. "That's—"
"But I would tell you to take care of Itachi," he presses on, uncaring. "You're everythingto him. Do you get that?"
Shisui's mouth twists, and his head comes up, chin tilting, hair falling over one eye. He has never looked more like an Uchiha as he does at this moment. "He's got Sasuke," he says. "And his family."
"Sasuke counts on him. He counts on you. If you do something stupid—"
"I get it," snarls Shisui. "And I don't understand where you get off, telling me this. That little fuck is—I mean—"
And the problem is, Obito knows what he means, because he remembers Shisui sobbing into Itachi's bedsheets, and pulling him to school hand in hand, and looking over his shoulder to him as he leaves for some mission or another. He remembers the movement of Shisui's fingers, usually so fast, faltering as they tuck strands of Itachi's hair behind his ears. His lips, murmuring secrets into Itachi's, the closed worlds of their kisses. Shisui's content voice as they walk home in the twilight—if this is love, it's—the storyteller asleep, as if within him the clamor of stories are finally silent, and love has made him real.
"I'm worried about him," says Shisui, voice cracking. "Seriously—he just—"
And for the first time in years, Obito wraps his arms around his cousin. It's been months since he's cried at something, but tears fill his eyes at this, what he knows is the last legacy of the Uchiha still left to him: the sight of a loved child, always a child to him, and so many other things—cousin-brother-friend—breaking, breaking under something he still doesn't have the eyes to see.
"They're planning something," says Obito. "Something serious, and Shisui and Itachi are caught up in it."
"Well, that's expected, isn't it?" asks Rin sleepily. She is a study in the idea of home: brown eyes, kind soft mouth, quilted robe. Leaning against his arm, she reassures him that nothing is happening in the outside world. "Mm, I'm glad you're not involved."
Shisui's haunted eyes assault him.
"They're the best in the clan," says Rin. "Whatever's going on, they'll probably be safe."
"Maybe…" says Obito. Rin presses a kiss to the top of his shoulder.
"Stop thinking about it," she says. "They'll be fine."
Obito wonders how many times he has said this to Shisui and Itachi over the past years. He wonders if he has even been able to reassure them of anything, or if it will actually be true in the end. When he thinks of them he sees small figures silhouetted against a wall of flame, loyalties clashing and breaking against their bones like caged things, and something in him says no, they won't be fine—
"You're probably right," he says, and Rin reaches across him and snaps off the light.
"Where are you going?" Obito asks. "It's kind of early for you to head back to the compound, isn't it?"
"Itachi asked me."
Shisui's smile is sweet and familiar. In his blue high-necked shirt he looks strangely young, so that Obito wants to hoist him onto the counter again. This might have been his mistake; he has been so busy worrying that he no longer remembers the last time he and Shisui did something together. Shisui is busy now with things Obito never did even his last days as a shinobi, missions so complex and difficult they leave his brow furrowed and those bright eyes dim with fatigue. He wonders if Shisui might like to go to the pier later, maybe just clean his weaponry and talk. Maybe tell Obito about the apartment he plans to buy, at the very edge of the compound, where he'll set aside a room and wait until Itachi is old enough to move out, and then—
And then—Obito doesn't know, but he's sure Shisui will tell him. He always has.
"Be safe," he says, superfluously, ridiculously, but insistently. "Where are you two going?"
Shisui pauses in the doorway, head cocked over his shoulder. In the shafts of evening light through his curls he is a young boy again, heading out to take his cousin to the park. Already, the edges of his mouth are heavy with the tenderness Itachi brings out in him.
"The Nakano," he says. "Nothing unusual."
When he hears, he sends Uchiha Itachi a message:
Don't ever show your fucking face here again.
On the last morning of summer, after a tragedy that barely registers in the wake of Shisui's death, Itachi comes anyway. Obito lets him, because the boy's hands are shaking harder than his own. In his courtyard, they eye each other, eyes two different kinds of red.
"I know what you lost," says Itachi, and Obito's vision hurts with it, the tears that have worn a home for themselves inside his eyes. The anger that still burns, tearing at his veins and his heart as if Shisui still lives within them, clawing and raging at the walls of his body.
"How can you?" says Obito. "I heard you left Sasuke alive."
Itachi closes his eyes.
"In a few years," he says. "You will know why I did that, nii-san."
"Don't call me that."
"As you wish."
They leave a space between them, as if Shisui's presence must be accounted for at all times. In the east, sun slants across Obito's courtyard. Rin is not yet awake to see this teenager with blood on his hands, whom Obito needs to kill, has to destroy, but knows he never will, because if he did—
-if he did he knows Shisui would come at him from beyond time itself, eyes spinning, mouth already shaping an ending to his story. But he would rather not remember his cousin like this, so he is silent.
"I will say only this," says Itachi. "He loved you."
The platitude sounds wrong from Itachi's mouth. Obito hasn't wished for a sharingan for years, but he wishes for it now, if only to at least pose a threat. Uselessness shakes him to the bone once again, as it always has with Shisui. At the end of loving a boy who was a genius, he knows, there can only be this: the knowledge that you will never be able to save him, that he will run ahead into the years before you, always smiling, a white curve that hurts your heart with the force of love.
"I don't think I was ever much to him," says Obito. "He had you. Once."
"He looked up to you as a brother."
This has always hurt Obito and gratified him at the same time, for brothers are an inspiration, teachers, something—
"I never taught him anything."
Itachi's eyes widen a fraction of an inch. The wind is touched with cold. He pulls the collar of his shirt higher. Obito has just noticed the traveling cloak. He wonders what else he expected. After the massacre, Itachi is missing-nin. His eyes above the collar brim are like two cool coins, metal that men have died for and that, on its own, accomplishes nothing at all.
"Do you really think that?"
"…You were both the best. I only told you one thing, not to leave each other behind, and you—"
He is sobbing, face in his hands and voice strangling itself in his throat, and the little boy who held his cousin's hand with such devotion is silent before him. But then Itachi says something, and the river and its victim are almost forgotten. In Itachi's expressionless voice, the words are matter-of-fact.
"He said he knew how to be an Uchiha because of you. You taught him how to smile."
"Well, yeah," says Obito, wiping his nose. He is undignified. He always has been, and Itachi before him is as slender and beautiful as a well-balanced blade. "You d-don't have to have a s-stick up your ass to be an Uchiha. Wish I'd t-taught you that too—"
"Please take care of Sasuke," says Itachi.
Obito watches him go. He cuts through the sunlight, upright figure in a traveling cloak, but small enough that Obito can still see his shoulders as the spaces where Shisui's arm lay, or the thin mouth that Shisui had drawn his fingers over, eyes wondering, infinitely loving. They had loved the same person, if in different ways; he has lost a brother, and Itachi—what has Itachi lost?
Whatever the case, he knows he will spend the remainder of his life trying not to betray that love, constantly finding it in things: store-bought cartons of anmitsu, a bent fishing pole, a picture of a small boy in a flak jacket and a cousin laughing. For now he wonders if somewhere, in some illusion beyond the capacity of the sharingan, Itachi will continue to find Shisui in the lonely places of his mind, while he will find nothing at all.
On the shore of the Nakano shrine, Rin waits by the river, her formal kimono caught with light in the silver threads. Obito claps his hands and signals to Sasuke that he should do the same.
Shisui's picture in the shrine looks out away from the others. Obito took care to place it in the sunlight. It is a genin graduation picture, and in the very corner, he can see Itachi's hand, the rest of him cropped out. Sasuke claps his hands awkwardly and lays his rice cake at the base of the frame.
"Is that good?" he asks.
"That's great," says Obito.
As they leave, the bell begins to ring for early morning. Two sounds or one, no one has ever been able to tell, and now Obito thinks the difference is, perhaps, not as great as he thought. He wonders if Itachi, making his way alone, can hear it from wherever he is. The sun lifts; the waters fill with the promise of sound and of new worlds. The Nakano burbles, telling stories. Words in the current. "Once upon a time," says a little soldier, and stories begin. "Once upon a time," says Uchiha Shisui, and stories never end.
"Come on," says Obito to Sasuke. "I'll take you to the pier. But there's a rule—you can't go unless you smile, okay? You're not allowed to be sad there."
Sasuke falters, as his brother did once, but Obito has always known the value of a steadying hand. He reaches out, tousles choppy black hair, and suddenly, beautifully—
—he is once again face to face with Shisui's smile.