A/N: This is for hewhoistomriddle, who asked for Shisui/Hinata. It turned into some kind of bizarre threesome with Itachi involved. Go figure.
I deeply, deeply hope this will help me sink my teeth into my ItaHina WIPs again, so your feedback would be very much appreciated!
Notes: Non-massacre AU. Srsly.
Disclaimer: The summary is Jonathan Safran Foer. I've taken my cues on Shisui/Hinata from hewhoistomriddle's own wonderful fic "Encounter," (which is probably some kind of breach of gift-fic etiquette, I'm so sorry bb!) and on Hinata and Itachi's views on marriage/relationships from discussions with the lovely Mariagoner, who has really helped me clarify my understanding of the Hyuuga clan and ItaHina in general.
Also, if you're here from my LJ...would you mind commenting there instead of here?
So, that's all the news that's fit to print. Enjoy!
What she remembers is that the things coming out of Shisui's mouth were mind-numbingly stupid and probably sacrilegous, but she was seven years old and terrified and couldn't laugh, even when he thrust their bound hands in the air and yelled the honorable Uchiha clan, cradle-robbing for two centuries and still going strong! or something that sounded suspiciously like that, at least—those are the words she remembers, not the engagement vows he had memorized in one turn of red eyes, or even the elaborate congratulation speech given by Uchiha Fugaku as they sat together on the wide woven mat. It had been the most practical engagement of their generation—the future heiress of the Hyuuga and the best warrior of the Uchiha—and she knew that Fugaku was pleased, for the engagement signaled that the position of clan heir was now unequivocally open for his own son.
What she remembers is that Itachi, twelve years old and newly-minted jonin, had signed his name on the witness form with fingers that did not shake, that were as steady as the steeple bells outside, and that afterwards during the greeting period her fiancé's hand had snaked out and snared the edge of Itachi's kimono. Fold of silk between thumb and forefinger; a slice of blue light. Shisui had strong hands—made for cupping lightning and hefting spears and wringing water from the sky, for he could do all of those things, even then—and she would always see the three of them like this: joined by those hands, one folded on his knee, tethered to hers by a long silk cord, and the other caught like a sunbeam in his cousin's kimono. It had been, even then, the image of them she knew she would see behind closed eyes until the end of her life.
In the summer of the war's second year Hinata teaches a group of young branch house Hyuuga how to bite off their tongues. Ibiki casts the genjutsu for her and she speaks to each child separately, talking them calmly through the stages of trauma as illusory blood fills their mouths. "Kumo has extremely competent medi-nin," she says, as they gag on the empty air. "Make sure that you have either swallowed what remains or mangled it beyond recovery." One of the children is crying. "Well done," she says, as Ibiki checks each child's performance within the genjutsu and nods. "Should any of you be captured, I know you will perform as a credit to our clan and our village."
When the session is finished, she goes away and is violently sick all over the crabgrass. She sits there for several minutes. She just sits there. She watches the water from the sluice gate wash the small square of courtyard clean. The sun goes behind the spire of the main house and dips out a ladleful of tepid orange light and upends it over the compound. She thinks that she wants to clean it up, but the time for cleaning is past.
At the Hokage tower, Itachi's shoulders are tense over yet another captured Uchiha. "Saru is eleven," he murmurs, dabbing his blotter over a dispatch notice. "He will not last under torture."
"He went through the same wartime training you and I did," Shisui says. "He'd die before he tells those bastards anything. That's how we train our bloodline kids."
"They will take his eyes anyway." Itachi is no longer listening. "They will take his eyes and kill him."
Shisui gently disengages his arm from Hinata's grip and leans across the table to palm Itachi's jutting shoulderblades. Itachi's hair is pinned up out of his way and his eyes are rimmed with red; he is a living statue of efficiency; and it looks wrong that he should be so spare in his brokenness. Shisui's traveling cloak hangs crookedly off one shoulder. He has come straight from the Kumo front to Itachi's office in the Hokage tower—a dry little room adjacent to Hinata's and Inuzuka Hana's, in the wing that houses the clan heads. Itachi's desk faces the window. Like hers, there are only two decorations: his clan crest and a beautifully calligraphed scroll of the Fire Country national anthem.
"How are things at the front?" she asks Shisui. He looks at her briefly surprised, as if stunned that she is in the same room. His head, tipped toward his cousin's, is like a collapsing tower.
He sighs and rakes his fingers through his hair.
"Kumo's always good for a laugh," he says finally. "I must have had at least six squads tailing me to grab my eyes in the past like, week. Lots of night raids, too."
"It might be wise to stop sending Uchiha to the Kumo front at all," muses Itachi. "You are capable of defending yourself, but children like Saru—"
Shisui shakes his head. "They're hoping you'll do that, but taking the bloodline clans out of it will weaken Konoha's assault. Look at Kiri. Killed off its bloodlines, and now no one can even take the place seriously anymore. Strong bloodline shinobi need to stay at the front."
"We are already spreading the strongest dojutsu users too thinly. Hinata-san, for example, has deployed her cousin and sister to three different villages in the last month—"
"Well, unless you think of something else," says Shisui tersely. It's a question without a question in it. The eyes Kumo has paid for in hundreds of lives are a dull vermillion under long lashes; like Itachi, he keeps his sharingan activated all the time now, and Hinata feels frivolous whenever she considers asking him to revert to normal grey.
"I've thought of something else," she says.
They both turn to look at her and words catch in her throat. She has waited for her entire life and something beyond it for them to look at her like this: an equal at last and a force in her own right, a weapon forged like a new-struck star in the heart of war. Shisui's gaze is in hers and his hand on Itachi's shoulder, and she feels, for the first time, that she has finally earned her engagement.
"I've thought of something else," she repeats. "You won't like it."
What she remembers is veined eyes straining towards the promise of impossible speed—small flares of green-blue chakra making starbursts like waves beyond sensation, an entire seashore of laughing breakers—the elegance of competence, like the beauty of a dancer's bones. The perfect curve of shoulders dappled with sunlight, which broke and fell around him in great golden swathes as if parting for his movements. He had perched atop a training post and stretched his legs, tipping his neck back—and her palms had gone hot at the motion, without provocation, without understanding.
What she remembers is Come on, quit dragging your feet and and Itachi's own small body, bound to the earth and its demands even then. Wearing elbow-length gloves and a too-large breastplate and the give my mask back, Shisui in his mouth like an unwilling prayer. Love making his own movements a little too unsteady, a little too slow, like a boy wading through water without knowing it. Both of their eyes watching the same thing: Shisui leaning back on the training post smiling and breathing and laughing and existing, and waiting for the moment when he would stretch out his hand and say, "You coming?"
He doesn't like it. When she comes out of the operating theater with the bandage bound about her eyes, Shisui is so angry he doesn't stay, just whirls on his heel and flickers out of the hospital. It hurts enough to make her stop walking forward. She can hear the slap of air imploding into the space where he has been, and it confuses her until she feels a hand on her shoulder, and knows that Itachi is there.
"It's for the war effort," she tries, and Itachi says, "He just left, Hinata-san."
He walks her home and the twilight is sweat on her skin, pressing around her in a tangible weight that she can't see at all. She holds Itachi's arm and feels the ridges left by the ANBU tattoo—someone had done a bad job of it when he was thirteen, and Shisui had been furious, told you they won't treat you right, you stupid—
"He can't remain angry," she says. Useless words, dropped like bread crumbs along the path. "My eyes were of no use to me."
"Shisui is angry that the Godaime even approved this program," Itachi tells her. He places his own hand over hers to steer her over a sharp corner.
"It's been in development for a while," she says. "In wartime, bloodlines are a resource. It makes sense to redistribute to those who can use them best, or who won't cause problems if captured—look at Kakashi-sensei. What Obito-san did won the Third World War, and perhaps this could win this one."
Itachi is silent for several more steps. Then, "We have reached your gate, Hinata-san. Would you like me to escort you inside?"
"I can manage from here."
Her father cries.
It's the worst sound she's ever heard. Hinata turns her head from side to side, trying to escape the noises, but they slide under the bandage and her hair and her skin and set things breaking inside her like a sandstorm, rough movements in halting stages. She has never heard him cry for sadness before, only happiness—once, when she was appointed heiress of the Hyuuga clan.
"I haven't used them since I was inaugarated," she tells her father. "I've never needed the byakugan to fulfill my duties."
It's true. Her office under the Hokage tower is filled with paperwork and a large golden chart with clan deployment notes, internal data, medical research on the silver eye and its capabilities, but the job of clan head is exactly what Shisui said it would be—a desk job—and she hasn't been on a mission in years.
"You have grown up," her father keeps repeating, shaking his head like a wounded animal. "You have grown up."
What she remembers is copying him at a dinner given by the Yamanaka clan, although her eyes weren't the ones best suited for such a task. It had been the most successful dinner she had ever attended. She had held the long serving chopsticks properly. Asked the lady next to her for the decanter of juice instead of reaching out for it herself. Known not to drink more than two glasses of distilled plum wine. Her father, seated with the adults, had spared her a surprised and benevolent glance that struck her cheek like a shaft of snow, and so she had continued dutifully mimicking Shisui's actions for the entire dinner. Shisui himself had stared at her suspiciously and then, in a seemingly unrelated fashion, gleefully tipped an entire bowl of natto into his mouth.
So it was that she had properly met them: coughing and spluttering and glancing up at them through a hazy veil of tears—like a proper bride, some might have said—as Itachi held her hair away from her face and tented his own overrobe over the violet kimono she had nearly ruined. Shisui at his side was sixteen and incredulous, one hip canted out to the side and sash twirling around his finger, a swift bladelike motion. In the alcove of the main Yamanaka courtyard, melting icewater had dripped from a gutter pipe. The grass was spangled a dishwater silver. Spring in faltering steps, a dance that had yet to begin.
"Learn, don't ape,"he'd said, and for the first time she had realized that his voice was not unkind. "Manners aren't a matter of copying things. You'll remember that, right?"
"Y-yes," she'd said dutifully, and then he'd raised his eyebrows.
"Don't listen to him," Itachi had said, with the quietly self-conscious air of one who did little else. She had looked at him and seen the same quality of herself: the invisible brittleness that came from living in the lee of the sun. "Table etiquette can be difficult."
Shisui had dropped the edge of his sash and taken the overrobe from Itachi. She had stored away the details of his closeness with a strange excitement—a woven bracelet, a slight scar under his chin, and—a perfect schoolyard detail, to be hoarded and analyzed later: a silver earring, nearly swallowed by his curls.
"There you go," he'd said finally, and, oddly, glanced not at her but at Itachi. Silhouetted against the light, near-identical in their blue-and-silver garments, they had looked like legendary figures. Perhaps drawn from ornate tapestries and half-remembered bedtime stories, simply for the purpose of standing there before her. She'd swallowed and brushed her sweaty hair away from her face.
Shisui had grinned and risen to his full height. "You're good to come in, then?"
"Small thanks to you," Itachi had said.
"Hey—hey, come on, this is a dinner she's never going to forget. So, Hinata—" and her eyes had widened at her name in his mouth, bereft of suffixes, as true as the core of a fruit—"lesson number one? There are no rules at a thing like this. Just take a second to think, and then do what makes sense. That's something not a lot of people think of—what makes sense, I mean—but you're going to do it, okay? Then you won't have to copy anyone."
She'd nodded. She hadn't quite understood at the time, but he'd been a figure like changing patterns of incense, his attention wisps of bright scent winding in the air, and she was too preoccupied with catching each strand to say anything at all.
"I told him the same thing when he was your age," Shisui said, nudging Itachi. "And look how he turned out. Porcelain doll, right? The perfect daughter-in-law, that's my cousin. Come on, you, pour tea for us. We're waiting—" and then she'd laughed, because she'd never noticed that the feared ANBU captain Uchiha Itachi did look a bit like a porcelain doll, especially in his tottering wooden sandals. Perhaps this was why it had seemed so natural, even then, for Shisui's hand on his shoulder to slide to his waist, and for Itachi, even in his comfortable disapproval, not to pull away.
"See?" Shisui had said. "These clan blowouts are actually really hilarious. If you take the kunai out of your ass, you'll have a lot of fun—"
"Shisui," said Itachi icily, "your language. Hinata-san is nine years old."
"God, trust me, I know. Not even housebroken yet. No more natto for you—"
"I will p-politely decline it if you g-give it to me," she'd said suddenly. Both of them had stared at her.
And then Shisui had burst out laughing and dropped a kiss at the top of her head, and Itachi's hand had courteously taken hers, and all three of them had walked back across the silver-studded courtyard. Ivory chopsticks, pink-sliced Kiri tuna measured by the ounce, plots woven above their heads, a million possibilities to offend someone, all the usual machinations of a clan dinner. But the legendary Uchiha boys had smiled briefly as they watched her compliment Yamanaka Inoichi on his centerpieces, and Shisui had winked at her as he blithely downed his own fourth serving of the hated natto, and both of them had stifled laughter into their napkins when Itachi actually did pour tea for Inuzuka Hana, casting them deadpan looks as he slid his sleeve out of the way—and what she does remember is that for the first time she was happy among the lights and lilacs and luxury, as if her presence among them was no accident. What she remembers is that they had shared a secret, the three of them, and perhaps, in some manner more complicated than any intrigue concocted that long-ago evening—they had become friends.
At night she leaves the window open for Shisui's flicker. She is bolt upright in her bed as soon as she hears the flutter of his cloak.
"Just because I'm here doesn't mean I'm okay with this," he says immediately, as his boots touch the floor of her room in near-silence. She ignores this. She has understood Shisui's sulking fits since her first clan meeting: at six, when an enraged thirteen-year-old had delivered a vicious diatribe in opposition to the Hyuuga branch seal and the Uchiha had sent so many bouquets of apology the entire compound smelled like jasmine for weeks afterward. She had trailed along the courtyard wall after them. Felt the aroma caught in her throat like a secret word. Afterwards, Itachi himself had come to apologize on his cousin's behalf. She remembers Itachi's bowed head and smiles in spite of herself.
"Yeah, this is really fucking hilarious," says Shisui.
"I watched you all the time," she says. "Do you remember? I watched you and Itachi-senpai, trying to understand how you were so good at—at leading your clan, I suppose."
"Survival of the fittest. Itachi and I are survivors, and you, on the other hand, do asinine things like give away your eyes. Hold still, I'm taking off that bandage."
She tenses at his touch against her face, and he brushes an irritated fingertip against her chin before sliding his hands around to the tie of the bandages. "Stop that," he says, "It's just me," and he unwinds the bandage like a bridegroom removing a wedding gown—and that is fucking hilarious actually, so she is laughing in all her shatterglass pieces when Shisui lets the bandage fall and takes a look at her new eyes.
She doesn't realize until she opens them that she hadn't expected sight. Sakura had assured her that the procedure would merely leave her new eyes sensitive to light, but somewhere in the back of her mind she seems to have assumed that she would experience total blindness, so that the fact of seeing again makes her blood grow cold with retroactive relief. She looks at Shisui and it's fireworks in her veins, yellow orange red gold all the colors he's always brought, although he himself is just a study in black and white night-lines. She looks at Shisui, and it's a key clicking into empty tumblers.
"Green," he tells her.
"It's probably Yuugao-senpai who received them, then," she muses.
Shisui makes a noise like a strangled thing and then dives for her, arms straitjacket tight around her ribs, and his curls tapping out a fringe of lace against her temple. His lips move soundlessly against her neck.
"What the hell?" he muffles into her collarbone. "Why would you do this?"
She lifts a shoulder so he can feel her shrug. "You know how Kumo is," she says. "Sooner or later, I would have been kidnapped, and even when I was a kunoichi I was never strong enough to defend myself against very competent shinobi. I don't want the situation with Hizashi ojii-san repeating itself, so…Yuugao-senpai is powerful enough to both use the byakugan well and keep it in Konoha's possession."
Shisui groans. "But have you seen yourself?"
"Do I look that awful?"
"…Have a look, if you want—"
The little mirror he gives her is so scratched and obviously worn she can't help the soap-bubble of laughter that breaks in her throat. She reaches out and smooths his hair briefly, right over the ridge of the earring that's no longer there. Melted down for the war effort, he'd told her. Probably part of a kunai or a set of tanto now, and she'd cried at this when she hadn't even registered the loss of her trousseau jewelry.
It was sometime around Kurenai's death that they had begun manufacturing extra weaponry. Things have grown desperate, the Godaime had said. Things had grown desperate, and in the wake of her teacher's death the melting of jewelry had been very little. She had been furious with herself that it had registered at all.
She thinks: like this, war teaches us what we are and are not willing to sacrifice. She says none of it.
"How often have you used this?"
"Oh, don't even start—it's regulation for recon missions, and I, uh—"
Shisui falters, halfhearted smile skewing across his face in a lopsided manner that still puts her at nine years old, sometimes. "Fine, fine—I may have kept it around a little longer than I, uh, needed to. When they document my wartime heroics for posterity, I want to look good in the pictures, okay? I don't want any of that skeletal emaciated shit, where it looks like someone's just sacrificed me to Jashin and forgotten to tell me."
"I will keep that in mind," she says, and holds the mirror up to her face.
Green, indeed. She is grateful that she was given such a vibrant color. For the first time, she looks at herself in the mirror and actively admires the hue of her eyes. Then she stifles a gasp. She has never noticed, before, that her eyes are capable of expression.
"It's a bit startling, yeah," says Shisui, watching her.
The mess of war unfolds itself in clean shades. Her sheets are washed with a lye and lemon juice mixture that makes her hands bleed when she does it herself, and her clothes—she no longer remembers the silks she used to wear. She had written the colors down in grandiose terms, so that she would remember. Alizarin. Lapis lazuli. Now she looks at the names and can no longer visualize the shades. And Shisui had been angry then, the aquamarine flash of his chakra the only live color still left to her, so she had wrapped her hands in it, surrounded herself in the energy that sluiced off him like rainwater.
"Look at you," he says now. Between his eyes, a tight knot of rage. "You're not even involved in the fighting, and look at—look at what it's done to you. If you wanted to do something, why couldn't you have come to the front yourself? You could serve in my battalion if you wanted and—"
"I've never been adept with the byakugan," she says. "And I'm needed here."
"Why?" he demands. "You can do whatever you need to at the front—"
"I'm doing what I need to here," she insists again. "I was the one who sent Ko's forces to the southernmost border, and it was my reconagents who finalized the Kiri alliance when Kumo had kidnapped their Mizukage."
"The clan head is a sinecure," Shisui snaps. Hinata presses the back of her hand to her new eyes and winces.
"You didn't think that before," she says pointedly. "Would you say that to Itachi?" and Shisui's restless movements cease suddenly. Itachi's deployment of the Uchiha has been nothing short of genius. His first action had been to outlaw the display of clan crests among field agents and initiate mandatory disguise training, and within a month, the closest Kumogakure outpost had been successfully infiltrated by supposed "civilians" who had suddenly manifested red eyes on the night of a crucial raid. She and Shisui had not been present to see Itachi receive his decorations. She and Shisui had not been present to see Itachi hold the monogrammed ribbons up to a candle, long steel-tipped fingers as graceful as the flame that licked the gilt free.
She and Shisui had been present, however, to see Itachi walk to the front of the Uchiha main hall and, instead of the decorations, tack a slim sheet of paper to the board in the middle of the room. Upon closer inspection, they had found it to be a roster of the dead.
"One hundred and seventy-five," he had said to the assembly, voice flat. "One hundred and seventy-five dead in last month's raid. Six medals of valor, you will be told. Five countries for the taking, they will say. I have only one number to offer you, and that is one hundred and seventy-five. Do not forget it."
Neither of them could have told him, then, that one hundred and seventy-five was nothing.
"You're still watching us," accuses Shisui quietly, and his voice slips between her shoulderblades, under the collar of her nightgown. She takes his hand across rough white sheets. He tilts it up and leaves a kiss at the inside of her wrist like a signature, soft and light and something approximating an apology or a note of forgiveness; she's not sure, and it hurts her that the lines have blurred so she can no longer tell. For a moment, she regrets the loss of her byakugan eyes. Shisui is a genius of the old clans and wields his mind in rapier fluctuations she often does not understand, but the color of his chakra has always been honest and reliable and now, something she will never see again.
"Of course I watch you," she replies. "I was once told to do what makes sense."
He leans across her sheets to kiss her. Holding her chin between forefinger and thumb. Chaste but slow, as if noting that they have done more than this in the past, and that they have no need to reaffirm what is already there. Then he holds her at arms' length and squints again into her face.
"I could get used to it," he says finally. "You…have nice…eyes. I mean—"
Most notorious charmer in the five countries, and Uchiha Shisui can no longer deliver the oldest line in the book. Hinata kneels on her futon and wraps her arms around his shoulders, waiting for the shaking to subside. She hears Shisui saying most people don't do what makes sense. She hears Itachi saying one hundred and seventy five. Moonlight creates jailbands across her sheets, and another wartime night marches forward, unfurling its load of sacrifices like a banner full of stars.
What she remembers is the reeling grey of a stadium in late August, a metallic wash as her eyes rolled back into her head, and waking up to "She's my fianceé, okay? Let me in, or your ass is getting arrested so hard you—what? Please, do you even have a medical license? Let me see that, you quack—"
And then he was grinning at her over a hospital-room cot, wearing civvies and a green scarf and bearing what looked like six bouquets of flowers. Some were carried by Itachi, who respectfully delivered his, "The Uchiha clan pays its respects and wishes you better luck for your next attempt at the chuunin exam" before Shisui elbowed him aside and came to sit at Hinata's bedside. After three years of polite smiles at clan dinners and the occasional wave as they crossed paths to their respective compounds, she was no longer afraid of the sight of them. She had described Shisui's earring and the exact length of Itachi's ponytail to Ino and Sakura, which had earned her so much acclaim at her Academy lunch table that she was even able to think of them with a sort of fond possessiveness.
"So," he'd said. "Getting your ass kicked by your nutcase cousin, huh? I know what that's like. Good times."
Itachi had shot him a decidedly chilly look.
"You know," continued Shisui flippantly, oblivious of this, "I keep thinking I should come visit you and all that, my dear fianceé, but every time I do I feel like a creep of the highest order. You're like six, or something?"
"Twelve," said Hinata.
"God, you might as well be toddling around—what were we doing at twelve, Itachi?"
"I was an ANBU trainee, and you had just arrested your first narcotics supplier in Otogakure," said Itachi curtly.
"…right. Anyway, I'm sorry I haven't been a very satisfying suitor, but I hope Uzumaki Naruto, at least, has been less of a disappointment?"
Hinata had flushed to the very roots of her hair, and Shisui had laughed so kindly the sun had shone a little brighter, and the curtains had turned a little creamier, and Itachi's mouth at its edges had gone a little bit softer. Twelve years old, and she hadn't known what it meant. She had known so very little about love. But then Shisui had reached across the hospital bed and taken Itachi's hand, a movement as simple and natural as that with which he tossed back his hair, as if he had wanted her to understand something—and she began to understand, a little, what people meant when they spoke of devotion.
"Don't worry," he had said. "I don't want you to be upset about marrying me. A lot of things happen when you're a teenager."
"Aren't y-you still a t-teenager?" she'd asked, and he'd lifted one shoulder in response.
"Sure. That's how I know."
And it wasn't his eyes she'd met then, it was Itachi's, their dark irises like pools of liquid. He bent towards Shisui like a flower, even then, and with the cool acceptance she saw there she knew in a moment how the pieces would fall. In a moment of bravery paralleling any during her chuunin exam, she lifted her hand from its place on the hospital bed and let it rest on top of their joined palms. For whatever reason she felt as if she was touching Shisui more deeply in Itachi's skin, as if she were putting her fingers to a vibrating string at the heart of his being and learning the melody that lay there.
"You learn what's important now," Shisui had said. "Right before you grow up. That's when you learn."
What she remembers is that as she fell in love with Uchiha Shisui, Itachi met her eyes with the same look a soldier gives a man wearing the same colors—that of recognition on a mutual quest. A look of steel friendship and acceptance and hopeless peace, a look of apologies and secrets. A look that told her what love was and what it would be, as long as the three of them were bound together, threaded like three strands of a braid by the fact of their hands in Shisui's own.
Itachi is polite about her green eyes, as he has been about everything else in their lives.
"Do you think you could maybe peel down your shield of apathetic condescension for one second?" Shisui rants at him. "Look at her. Look at her. When did I sign up to babysit Konoha's martyr brigade?"
"Sasuke has reported six fatalities at the Sunagakure outpost," says Itachi to Hinata, completely ignoring him. "You will be pleased to learn that your sister was unhurt and should be en route to Konoha, now that Team Kakashi has relieved her squad."
"I am also pleased to hear that Sasuke-kun was unhurt," she replies, and they trade glances like exact change. "Hanabi can begin training the men who have recently received byakugan implants. There is a Kiri shinobi—Ao—"
"Oh my god, stop talking," says Shisui. "You two are robots. I'm so glad I was never in line to be clan head, or I might have turned into one too."
"I am only clan head because the Godaime did not wish to lose you as a field shinobi," Itachi points out. "Most still believe your mind-control technique will end the war."
Shisui sighs, blowing a sheaf of dark hair out of his eye. "I've told them," he says. "I can't use it on that many people. The amount of chakra required would kill me."
"That must not happen. You are next in the line of succession should I happen to die."
Shisui flickers to his side of the room so quickly the dust on the floor flies. He slaps the back of Itachi's head much harder than he needs to under the circumstances.
"Don't joke about that," he says, and Shisui has joked about his own death, about the long-dead parents Hinata never met, about the wedding that will take place once she turns eighteen, but this is the one thing he has never so much as cracked a smile about.
She knows a little bit about it, because when they had received news of the war beginning Itachi had gone white and set his kunai down and walked to the back entrance of the building, where the leaves from the street sweepers were still piled in mounds waiting for flame. A sweet scent from crushed crabapples underfoot, smoke and grass. Some stars visible through the hazy light from the top of the Hokage tower. Itachi, doubled over on the cobblestones with his hands clutching and tearing at that long sleek hair. She had run for Shisui before she had thought to drop to her knees beside him. In the end the motion of Shisui's hand over his back was all that had ended the episode, and she had stood in the shadow from one of the leaf mounds and watched them helplessly.
It will happen again.
I'm not going to let it happen again.
They will take me back there again.
I'm not going to let them take you back there again.
"Slightly rusty kunai for your thoughts, Hyuuga-sama," says Shisui, interrupting the memory. He waves the aforementioned object in the air.
"That is completely unhygienic," says Itachi.
"If anyone has reason to care about contracting a disease from this thing, I'd hope they're already dead."
Bodies are never sent back from the front. Kumo shinobi bring lightning down out of the sky in great swathes. One of Konoha's northern forests had been leveled very early in the war. When Hinata had scoped the area with her byakugan, she had been stunned at the grey stubble of the landscape—like the shameful nudity of some eternal convalescent, revealed at last. Like a corpse laid out at the crematorium where Sakura works almost constantly, performing autopsy after autopsy and and salvaging every bloodline she can. The call for bloodlines goes out nearly every day now—give it to someone who can take care of it, all bloodline shinobi are to be accompanied at all times—
Konoha is losing, and has been for a very long time.
"—take better care of your weaponry—"
"—too busy taking care of workaholic idiots like you—"
In her office, she is calm in the eye of the storm. Until recently, she had been able to see everything anyway. Kunai made from earrings and jewelry from dead mothers, sticking out at odd angles like macabre xylophone keys along someone's ribcage. A young kunoichi—a friend of Hanabi's, she thought—swaying from side to side next to a pool of vomit and blood from her own severed arm. Kumo scavengers peeling the eyelids from a family of dead Uchiha, a collapsed house of gingerbread men. Through everything, strange bitter winds that had coated the battlefields in dust, as if the very land had realized what its children had wrought.
There had been a day when, echoing what most of them must have been thinking, Uzumaki Naruto had gotten up in the Hokage tower and shouted himself hoarse at Itachi for sending a squad of three Uchiha to certain death at the Suna front. He'd yelled the same things he always did. "I won't let another Konoha shinobi die!" and "I'll end this war!" and other things that meant little, very little, against Itachi's face as he consoled Uchiha Saru's young mother.
"You're just sitting here in the village, letting the real shinobi die, and—"
Shisui had gotten up abruptly and—to everyone's surprise, spun the tomoe in his eyes and slammed a perfectly mimicked rasengan down on the meeting table. Destroyed the entire thing in a flash of splinters and perfect blue.
"Look at that," he'd said in the ensuing silence. "You're a great shinobi of Konoha, right? Because you can pummel things to pieces, right? Well, I can do it too, Uzumaki Naruto. So can Itachi. So can your teammate, Haruno Sakura. So can nearly anyone in this goddamn village—which is a village of great ninja, in case you've forgotten. You keep talking about sacrifices, but all you at the tower ever give us is shit like we need a sharingan on Team Twelve and give us another byakugan for the Kiri outpost, and you know who decides who makes those sacrifices? The heads of the clans."
The quiet had gathered a quality of shame about itself, collecting like tucks in a robe. Shisui had kept talking as he swept his cloak on.
"Yondaime-sama rose to power on the shoulders of hundreds of Uchiha who won the Third World War for you—do you even know what it's like, wartime when you're a little kid? You're always ranting about Itachi and how he needs to lighten up, laugh, cry—do you even get that he cried all the tears he'll ever have when he was four years old, and all anyone will ever say to him is you're Uchiha, what are you complaining about?"
"Yondaime-sama was a great leader," Naruto had argued. "That was his job—"
"Deciding on the exact nature of sacrifices—balancing lives so a hundred won't die when only ten should—that's what it means to be a leader," Shisui had said. "The Hokage doesn't make those decisions. Itachi does it—those three Uchiha died so a class full of Academy kids didn't have to. Hinata does it—she stays up every night making strategies, every goddamn night, and each one of those strategies saves as many lives as twenty of your precious rasengan. A village needs a heart to beat blood, sure—but it needs a brain to tell it how. If they wanted to go beat people up like—what was it you said? Like real shinobi—they could do it—but if you wanted to do what they do every day, you couldn't. Ever. So do everyone a favor and shut the fuck up about things you don't understand. All right?"
And then he'd bowed to Tsunade, who was staring at him in speechless shock. "Godaime-sama. I'm out of here. Propaganda doesn't save lives. If you all want to sit around shooting the shit about your way of the ninja and how awesome your pretty shiny new techniques are, go for it. I've got a war to end."
In all her years, Hinata had never felt proud of her place among the old clans until Shisui had said what he did.
Hinata rises abruptly and goes to Shisui and puts her arms around his waist. He stops talking and looks at her in surprise—it's always amused her, the ease with which he fluctuates between seasoned charmer and clueless teenager—and she presses a kiss to his shoulder, just above the police emblem. His shirt is thin from corrosive soap and excessive wear.
"Oh god, don't go all weepy-girl on me," he groans, recovering quickly. "I've already got one housewife on my hands—" a gesture at Itachi, who looks away disdainfully—"so that makes you the man in this crazy relationship, right?"
She is still smiling from the heat of his back when she returns home and Hanabi, bone-thin and grey with fatigue, springs up from the courtyard gate and throws herself not into her arms, but into the formal bow of a soldier who has something to report.
"You shouldn't be home for another day!" says Hinata. "It's three days from Suna!"
"Ambush," says Hanabi tersely. "Got the fuck out. Uchiha Sasuke—ne-san? Your eyes—" is all she manages, and then she faints dead away.
What she remembers is returning to the Academy to observe some of the younger Hyuuga and finding, to her surprise, that he was there as well, applying ice to the forehead of some seven-year-old whose sharingan had, by the looks of it, activated too early for him to handle. Itachi was several feet away, talking to the school medi-nin about hallucinations and trapping oneself in genjutsu and other things that had her white with horror.
Shisui had simply sat down, tipped the boy's chin up, and stared into his eyes for a few moments until the boy laughed and ran away, apparently unaffected.
"There you go, Saru," he'd muttered, then, and seeing Hinata, startled a little. "Hey! I haven't seen you around—not taking missions?"
"Not often."She'd gestured at the little boy. "What did you do?"
"Just a little mindbending. He thinks he's not in pain. When it wears off, Itachi'll fix him with one of his crazy-ass genjutsu or something. So, why haven't you been doing missions?"
She'd smiled. It was strange that it was only once she learned the decorations of leadership—delicate diplomatic machinations, powered by the quiet observation she had honed to perfection through all her years of inability—that she had learned confidence as well, and she had been able to face him without stuttering for the first time.
"I've been doing intra-clan work," she'd said. "Integrating the Hyuuga into Konoha's mainstream. Breaking down some of the isolationist tendencies we've built up over the years."
He'd raised his eyebrows in pleasant surprise. "Cleaning up clan politics?"
"As best as I can…"
"I knew you'd do what made sense," he said, laughing. "You and Itachi both. That's all he ever talks about these days. When he, you know. Talks. But you've really grown up, Hinata."
She obviously hadn't, because she had still blushed at his praise.
"So you're fifteen now, right?"
"Three more years, then."
Neither of them needed to clarify what was being talked about. She'd hidden it from him very well, how the mention of their marriage had sent a frisson of excitement across the base of her stomach. Or so she'd thought, until she'd looked up and seen the amusement in his eyes. It was this that had prompted her to say, all in the modulated voice with which she gave her clan proposals, "I want you to know that I've—I am no longer…associated…with Uzumaki Naruto."
That had drawn him up short.
"Congratulations? No congratulations?" He'd crossed his arms across his chest, one finger absentmindedly tracing the Uchiha crest on his bicep. "And what's wrong with Uzumaki Naruto? Other than the fact that he's obviously got a thing for Itachi's baby brother…"
"My clan is broken,"she'd said. "I'm the heiress. It's my job to fix it, not the Hokage's. I don't think he understands that."
His sudden peal of laughter was delighted; she'd wanted to turn her palms to it, warm herself, take the reassurance home and tack it to her board.
"Not a bad sentiment."
She shrugged. "It's what makes sense," and they'd both smiled at that.
"So what prompted this epiphany?"
It was a teeter-tottering strange little second full of doubts and justifications and half-formed reasons, and then she'd clamped down on all of them and, there in the Academy schoolyard, risen to tiptoe and kissed him very lightly on the lips. It was the only point of contact between them. When she'd opened her eyes, she'd had the sensation of descending from a great, wheeling height.
Shisui was gawking at her like a man possessed.
"Well—" she said, keeping her voice as light as she could; she'd never done this before, this easy give-and-take— "I'm already engaged."
Shisui's eyes had dropped away from hers and his hand came up, tugging awkwardly at his curls and his collar and his badge and the flap of his vest. "Um," he'd said. "So this—this is really awkward, Hinata, but…you know about Itachi, right?"
She'd looked. On the opposite side of the field Itachi was casting a genjutsu on little Uchiha Saru, weaving through seals and explaining to the boy what he was doing. Emotionless, someone had called him in her hearing once. Robotic. Uncaring. It was inane, how little people saw. When Saru blinked his eyes and made a floppy bow to thank his clan head, Itachi's small smile was like her father's whenever one of his Hyuuga came back unscathed from a mission.
"I know about Itachi," she'd said. She did. She'd known since the hospital room after her chuunin exam, and she wondered how to make him understand that she already knew there was no Uchiha Shisui without Uchiha Itachi, and she could never have imagined him otherwise.
She reached out and touched the badge on his shoulder, just a light touch. She knew very little about contact and its implications, but she knew that she had never really touched him before, not of her own volition. In her mind, the red silk cord still dangled off her wrist and joined her to him. In her mind, he held the edge of Itachi's kimono. How could he have understood, the degree to which they had both become the shape of responsibility in her world?
"You're not you without him," she'd said finally, and like that, his face had cleared again, and his hands had come back down to his sides.
"Okay," he'd said, all in a rush. "Okay, then. Just so you know."
She'd had the feeling there was nothing more to be said, but as she turned to leave, he'd taken her hand. Curved his fingers around her wrist like a bracelet. "Stop making me feel like a dick," he'd said. "I—oh god, there's no right way to do this. You know there's the—the Itachi thing, but—just—come here, would you?"
She went to him. He patted the ground next to him, and she sat, mindful of the seven years between them in a half-shameful, half-pleasurable rush.
"Do you know why I've never broken this engagement?" he'd asked. "Because you see the same thing we do."
"The same thing?"
"Your cousin's seal." His mouth still thinned at the memory. "Secret meeting rooms under the Nakano or whatever the hell that's about. Marriages like—well, we're luckier than most, so not like ours, but you know what I mean."
She knew what he meant.
"I've always thought we were lucky to be born where we were," he said. "And I still stand by that. Look at you and Itachi. Clan heads, both. Sure, there are hardships—but if you want to fix things, you have the avenues to do it. You'll never have to fight for acknowledgment."
She had said, "We are not powerless."
"Exactly. That's a big deal, Hinata. Between the three of us, we could make the old clans mean something different. Anyone who hasn't actually been part of one has a pretty black-and-white view of the situation, but we can't afford that. The way I see it, we can either whine about an arranged marriage, or we can. You know. Fix our own problems. Live like normal human beings. Build a better clan, so that people might look at us and think the old clans can actually accomplish something. Even if I'm a really awful husband—"
"You won't be," she'd said before she really thought about what she was saying. Shisui had glanced at her, surprised.
"We do see the same thing," she'd said. "Love is made of things like that, isn't it?"
Shisui had leaned to one side and tilted his head so he was looking down at her, jawline pearly on the long stem of his neck. The shouts of children and the thwack of kunai in targets seemed to quiet as the sounds met him.
"Love is made of things like that," he repeated. "You surprise me."
"You won't be an awful husband," she said again, feeling foolish.
Then he reached over, tucked his arm around her shoulder, and kissed her. One hand on her cheek and one wet brush of his tongue and the whole world spinning, a carnival of galaxies behind her closed eyes. Their bodies keeping time in two heartbeats. When he drew back, he opened his eyes like they'd been closed for a long time, and that was enough; that was perfect; that was everything.
"We'll fix things," he had said. "Make Uchiha and Hyuuga names to be proud of again."
She got it, and she got that we was three people and always had and always would be. It was the only way she would have wanted it. She'd felt a rush of vertigo then, standing at the edge of the future with the greatest geniuses of her generation.
"I get it," she said.
A smile, slow and heady and nothing like his normal flash-quick grin, and she took her leave with the taste of his mouth on her lips.
The next time she had spoken to Itachi as they entered their respective offices, she'd taken care to preface some mundane sentence with "Do you think Shisui-san would…"
What she remembers is that he had looked at her in grave acknowledgment, and then he had smiled.
"—had the Raikage's brother with them. That jinchuuriki, or whatever. They were thinking they'd get Naruto too, only they didn't think Sasuke would put up such a fight."
"And your squad?" asks Itachi, pushing another cup of water to Hanabi across the table. She sets her chopsticks down and sucks down the water gratefully. Points of tension around her mouth and at the edges of her eyes hurt Hinata to look at.
"Dead," says Hanabi. She swipes her mouth with the back of her glove—still matted with the yellow dirt outside Konoha's borders—and mixes her daikon into her rice exactly as she has been told never to do. She tips the entire mess into her mouth and holds out her bowl for more. "Morale went to shit after they got Saru. There wasn't—I mean, I had to get back to Konoha before they got me, too. They already had a byakugan with them. Thieving fuckers."
Itachi closes his eyes. He feels each loss, Hinata knows. Each loss lives under his eyelids, in the silences of sleep, in the pauses before entering a room; each loss is a thing that gains form and shape and sucks the breath from his chest like a spirit in the night. She knows, because that is what it means to be head of a clan.
"What happened to Sasuke?" he asks.
Hanabi pauses in the middle of shoveling rice into her mouth.
"What happened to him?" demands Itachi.
Hanabi pushes the rice away and slides her chair back until there is sufficient space for her to kneel. She sinks to her knees and places her fingertips on the ground. Then she makes a full bow—the worst thing for a shinobi to do in any circumstance.
"I am very sorry," she says formally. "I had to leave them behind."
Itachi stands up, snatches his cloak from the hook at the front of the office, and turns back only to drop his Uchiha crest on the floor.
"As head of the Uchiha clan," he says stiffly, "I am bequeathing executive power to you in my absence, Hinata-san."
"Senpai! You can't—"
"You have led the Hyuuga admirably. I have faith in you."
"Please," he says. It's the only time he's ever asked anything of her, and so she says nothing. Turns her useless green gaze to the floor and finds herself already reaching for the right words—words about files and deployments and dispatch notices, not important words, not real words.
"Shisui-san won't let you go," she says loudly into the empty space, and knows it's wrong the moment she says it. Her little sister comes up behind her and takes her hand, somewhat awkwardly. "We won't let you go," she cries, and in the window behind her, the sunset begins.
What she remembers is a host of silvery-pink trees above them, apple-scented and flush with blossoms and starlight, and just outside her range of hearing, the melding sounds of laughter and gurgling water and kind words. The lush notes of a gagaku. Hundreds of tiny lanterns the size of her fist, strung throughout the trees all the way up the hill to the Hyuuga compound. Shisui's hand playing with the charm of her obi, her hands brushing the scar under his chin and the heady, strange taste of the ritual liquor someone had given her as celebration of her inaugaration.
"Congratulations on the desk job," he'd said, smirking. Her back against one of the trees, his hand on her waist. He had worn a deep blue kimono matching her lavender one for the event, and they had appeared together for so many photographs her eyes were beginning to hurt from the flashes. She didn't know how they'd managed to get away for a moment—it might have had something to do with a drink; she was holding one, and he'd set his empty glass down at the edge of the path.
"Thank you for the necklace," she'd replied. Seven strands of opal and pink pearls. Some kind of Uchiha heirloom, and Uchiha Mikoto had sent it on his behalf in a carved box so ornate she had given it to Hanabi for an antique chest.
"Sure," said Shisui. "Seeing as I really picked it out and whatever. I haven't even seen it, maybe you should let me get a closer look—that's a terrible pickup line, isn't it, never mind. Stop laughing!"
What she remembers is that when she'd returned to the festival, dazed and happy and her hair a disaster of epic proportions, Kiba had sniffed at her and turned bright red, and Shino had said, "He is a good man, your fiancé," and Itachi had simply ghosted one benevolent hand over her head and smiled his quiet, knowing smile.
Under the trees, the three of them had walked in the shadow of moonlight and low music. They had waved to civilians who would never have been invited otherwise. They had spoken to one another in words that had the weight of old names and friends' hands behind them, spinning elaborate plans for a future that did not yet exist. Shisui had taken her hand. The world and its momentum grew quiet for a moment, and she had caught her breath at the splendor of it all—the potential of everything, the old clans absolved in their three names. History in the making, and waiting for her to begin.
Two days later, word comes from the front that Uchiha Itachi has turned himself over to the Kumo forces in exchange for the safe release of his brother's squad.
The news comes to her as she and Shisui eat another silent dinner. She keeps her eyes on her plate and waits. She is ready when he rises and knocks over the table. The plates are wooden and do not shatter on the floor; instead, they make a dull clattering noise. Shisui overturns the chairs and slams the windows in their screens and smashes glasses and then he falls in a heap in the middle of the ground and chokes out sobs in huge gulps, as if things are being ripped free inside his chest. Tears sounding from far away, a boy who has no practice crying. She has stood powerless in front of her cousin's seal and her father's helplessness and her own incompetence, pressing grey thumbs into her throat, but she has never felt so wretched in her entire life. Two steps away and he is as unreachable as he has ever been.
She doesn't know how long she stands there, watching him shake in the throes of an unfathomable sadness, but when he rises, his red eyes are burning.
"Your eyes, and now this," he says. "Goddamnit, I'm not giving them Itachi. I can't—" He is breaking under the necessity of protection. She wonders if it is safe to touch him yet and then she doesn't care; she reaches out and grabs fistfuls of his shirt like a drowning woman gasping for mouthfuls of air. Her fingers grow white-knuckled. As if in a dream he reaches out, smooths his hands over her wrists.
Still, in the end, she is the one who brings him his traveling cloak.
"Come with me?" he asks.
She shakes her head.
"I have to stay in Konoha," she says. "I'm the acting head of Uchiha and Hyuuga."
Then he says, "I told him I wouldn't let them take him back there again."
In the end she isn't quite sure what to do with the weight of ten years and two families and one cousin and hundreds of kisses and millions of dreams; isn't sure whether she can pack some of them for him to take, or whether she should simply string them like lights all over the city, so that he will be able to see them from wherever he is. But he has taught her the weight of responsibility, and so this is all she presses into his hands as he sets out along the road out of Konoha. It's early evening when he leaves. It's early evening and there are no stars. It's early evening and her traitorous new eyes won't let her watch for his return.
She lets her hands map him like a sculptor pulling her greatest creation into form. She draws her palms along the line of his shoulders and his jaw and his back, bites her lip against the scent of his hair. Crushes him to her until she is sure her being is saturated with him—and this is true, for she knows she will never love him as much as the moment when he turns away from her, and takes the first step to where Itachi is.
"I know we have another year until you turn eighteen," he says, "but when I come back, I'm going to marry you."
He says, "It was fucked up, but it worked for us. We made things a little better."
She says, "Always."
He says, "You know I do love you, then?"
She wants to say I've always loved you, all of you that was mine to love but it comes out as "I want us all to be together again."
He brushes his lips over her knuckle.
"We will be," he says.
Then there is a flicker.
Then there is nothing.
What she remembers is the night at the lower training grounds when she had risen to her toes again to take Itachi's face between her hands and kiss him, searching for that lost piece of Shisui's spirit that was always absent, somehow, and he had kissed her back, looking for the same thing. Shisui's hands mouth tracing the tattoo on Itachi's shoulder, and her own hands gripping his hips, and the steady back-and-forth of the stars in the lavender-colored sky. Something beyond what had existed before. What she remembers is her cheek lazy against Shisui's collarbone and Itachi's fingers twined in her hair, and Shisui's voice, sleepy-sweet, content, you see, I knew it, we do belong together.
An entire Kumo brigade throws down its weapons in a rain of silver. The Raikage sends a white flag flying from the last outpost, seemingly without any provocation. Kumo's remaining spies confess to the Hokage in monotonous voices. Konoha's victory is a shallow thing.
One week later, Uchiha Shisui's unmarked body is discovered at the Kumo frontier. She knows he would have gloated at how correct he was about the ramifications of his technique. He leaves behind a half-eaten package of trail rations and a worn-out traveling cloak and a cousin and a fianceé and a note.
Take care of each other.
What she remembers is the day he'd said, "If anything happens to either of you, so help me, I'll—"
In the silence of the temple the sound of the bells is magnified a hundredfold. Outside the Nakano is a burbling messenger of spring. A thin red cord lies at her side, one end knotted loosely about her wrist.
In Itachi's voice, the marriage vows are as low and elegant as a funeral dirge.
Their village rejoices for them—it needs them, after all. They have received gifts enough to stock their house for years. They have received a foraged china table set that will shatter if someone flings it to the floor. They have received necklaces that don't look anything like pearls and opals. They have received an ornate wooden bed on which they will lie at night and leave a wide space between them, as if accounting for a presence unseen.
Itachi holds her chin with the very edge of his fingers as he gives her the ritual sip of sake. Cousins, perhaps, but they have never been much alike. Still, as he faces the east and recites the vows Shisui had once yelled out at their engagement—thirteen, he had been only thirteen—she catches things. A profile. The way his lips hide a smile at a joke only they can hear. The breaking of his heart, no longer heard (You must be mistaken—Shisui would not—), now a thing to be felt, sliding beneath her feet like grains of sand or of glass.
"I can no longer remember the final death toll," says Itachi in a low murmur at her side. In front of them, the priest recites in rapid-fire something about loyalty and about truth and haven't they been loyal? Haven't they been true? "In the end it is only one death."
There is a space between their joined hands. In that space they will keep him, eternally twenty-four and laughing, until his face in their memory has been replaced with the faces of their own children and grandchildren and a clan they have built. A pure clan. What he wanted.
"He felt that way too," she says. "That was why he did it."
The priest nods at them and they lift their wrists. The silk string loops around, trailing a thread of sunlight as it goes. In her phantom vision Shisui places his finger on the knot, grins. "Look at you guys," he singsongs. "Cuuuute—"
Tears fill her eyes and Itachi places his free hand under hers, holding her wrist in place. Through the open slit of the sliding door, the blue sky enters and fills the space, carefully, a note of song released into the open air. As the knot is pulled tight, Itachi leans over and, under the priest's disapproving glare, kisses the top of her head. Mimicking a movement Shisui had made long, long ago. In the night they will return home and sit like two dolls in their wedding kimono, and they will have things to talk about. Things like training grounds and mats and photographs, traveling cloaks and eyes and loves and stars rocking in the sky, things like cousins, things like lovers. Things like the village they will build upon the bones of their sacrifice. Things they have forgotten—but also, things that only they will ever remember. And one morning, when the future meets them along the long road home, they will have enough things to tell.
Love, she knows from experience, is made of things like this.
"Are you ready?" asks Itachi.
Uchiha Hinata says, "Yes."