Warnings: So. Having written Prom Fic and Jacking Off In A Cave Fic, I felt that there was nowhere left for me to go except to write something even more ludicrous. Like a Stripper Fic. So I did. No, there is no limit as to how creepy and ridiculous I allow myself to get.

Enjoy? (Don't shoot me!)


SPLASH

-x-

Shisui was never, ever taking another sick day again.

He had arrived at this resolution after dragging his ass into work on Monday morning—having spent the previous week battling the plague he had contracted during a miserable stakeout in the rain—to find that he had wandered into some kind of alternate universe. The first thing he'd seen had been Mitarashi "Crazy Eyes" Anko, perched on top of his desk and conversing with Shisui's partner in a conspiratorial tone. Itachi had had his usual cup of coffee, but instead of ignoring the mental patient looming over him, had actually seemed to be giving her the time of day.

Before he'd had time to rush over and unmask the doppelgangers masquerading as his colleagues, his boss had pulled him aside and made some noise about getting a tip on a drugs trafficking operation in some Shinjuku nightclub or other, and if Shisui was through being horribly diseased perhaps he would be pleased to know that he and his partner had been penned in for the case.

Shisui had said, "Cool, I love raids," and taken the folder housing the initial report for the assignment. Then he'd flipped it open, and almost spat coffee all over Ibiki's face.

"No," he had said, aghast with horror. "Seriously? No." To which Ibiki hadn't even bothered replying, because he was so, so evil.

It turned out he had no say in the matter anyway, because Itachi had already accepted the assignment a week ago, and had conveniently neglected to memo Shisui about it.

"What the hell were you thinking?" he demanded, which succeeded only in making Itachi glance up at him in total non-comprehension, saying, "I was thinking that you should start reading up on the case as soon as possible, since you missed about a week's worth of briefings."

Anko, somehow still sitting on his desk, leered obnoxiously and said, "What's with the bitch face? I'd have thought this gig would be right up your alley."

Shisui pointedly bypassed the cheap jab. "You're right," he said facetiously. "Why wouldn't I want to ruin the clubbing experience for myself by forever associating it with getting taken out in a hail of gunfire by enraged drug lords?"

On a scale of one to ten—ten being the bomb scare at the Reuters Building last May—this was still registering at least a seven in terms of stupidity.

At this point, Ibiki strolled past them on the way to his office. "Agent Mitarashi," he said, voice wooden, "if you cannot find a more productive venue to occupy your morning, may I suggest making a dent in those five reports on the arsonist case that I assigned you three weeks ago?"

"Right away, boss," Anko said, and barely waited for Ibiki to turn his back before sticking her tongue out after him. She looked down at Shisui with a wide smirk. "Anyway, it's not like you're the one who has to do the hard part."

Shisui scowled. That was the other issue he had with this "covert" operation. In his opinion, he should be doing the hard part, since, hello, he was the one with the firsthand experience here. This was less commentary on his lifestyle—though, okay, there was an element of that—and more about the fact that Shisui, as an impoverished university student, had sold a considerable part of his soul to the Tokyo clubbing scene to stave off imminent starvation. It made no sense to him, then, why he was going to be scouting out drug dealers on the dance floor, while Itachi had to be the one infiltrating the ranks of the staff.

Of course, if he were to vocalize this (totally valid and reasonable) view, Itachi would just cast him one of those narrow-eyed looks that made him feel about two centimeters tall and spout off more of his (irrational and ridiculous) rhetoric, so Shisui chose to stay mum on the matter until his partner had left the room to forage for more coffee. Not even premature wrinkles could convince some people that caffeine was not in fact a scientifically-proven alternative to sleep.

"Explain to me how Itachi of all people is going weasel out information from the staff," Shisui hissed. "You realize that actually requires engaging in social interactions, right? I don't even have words to relate to you the crushingly bitchy social hierarchy of gay bar employees. At least if he's working front of the house, he can just sit pretty at the bar and let the drug pushers come to him."

"I don't understand what the problem is," Anko said. "You're basically getting paid to spend a night out on the town. What's your damage?"

"He's afraid of falling off the wagon."

The owner of that statement canted one hip against Itachi's abandoned desk and peered down at them cheerfully. It was none other than Anko's partner, Hatake Kakashi, he of the That Time At The Christmas Party and That Other Time By The Water Cooler fame.

Anko's eyes lit up, like she'd spotted a kindred spirit. "You're an alcoholic?"

"No, the other wagon," Kakashi said, insultingly smug. "Don't worry about your slipknot chastity belt, Shisui-kun. We'll be stationed in the vicinity, ready to intervene should you decide to give in to your lizard brain and do something—or someone you might later regret."

Shisui slammed his cup down on the table hard enough to send the coffee sloshing, and said, "Anyway, can we please get back to discussing the ridiculousness of this operation?" mainly to preempt whatever Anko was about to say next, which was probably, "You're a sex addict?"

A dulcet gleam entered Anko's eyes. "You got a point there, queerbait," she said. "Too bad you're not qualified to play infiltrator anyway, since you were out all week and missed all the special training sessions."

Her tone was not as exquisitely mean as usual, which immediately put Shisui on guard. "I don't need training," he said, frowning. "I used to work at these joints all the time." He didn't particularly look forward to reliving his days as an underpaid drink biscuit for closeted businessmen to grope, but sometimes you just had to suck it up and take one for the team.

"Not that kind of training," Anko said, patting the back of his head. "All I'm saying is, looks like your birthday's come early this year, so cheer the fuck up, emo kid."

-x-

Naturally, by the time the fateful night rolled around, Shisui was a complete wreck.

"Seriously, what the hell were you thinking?" He was driving too fast, and the agency-issued car cornered like a shopping cart, lurching across every speed bump, stupid piece of crap. "Do you owe Ibiki money? Just trying to imagine how that conversation went down is having a deleterious effect on my sanity."

Itachi was, not for the first time in their lives, ignoring him. He had a thick folder full of case files splayed open across his lap—glossy photos and blurry printouts that he was going over with a highlighter. Setting aside another file, he peered at Shisui over the rims of his reading glasses, and said, "I hope that deleterious effect isn't the reason you're going five kilometers over the speed limit, and are about to miss our exit."

"You're such a freak," Shisui said reproachfully. He jerked the steering wheel, sending the tires screeching as they dragged across two entire lanes of Tokyo traffic. "How are you even alive?"

Granted, they were all freaks with varying depths anyway, what with Ibiki's sadistic leanings and Kakashi's probably-sexual relationship with those H-manga volumes and Anko's… Anko-ness. You had to be a freak to sign up for a life of long hours, shit wages, and the ever-present threat of getting shot in the face—not to mention the slow, sucking despair that came part and parcel with rubbing shoulders with the seediest sections of society's underbelly on a daily basis.

Itachi, despite being the biggest freak in the pack, was actually the exception to the rule. With the Commissioner-General of the National Police Agency for a father, and a family up to its ears in cops, federal agents, and civil servants, he'd have really had to try not to end up in the trade. Hell, all the higher-ups already operated under the delusion that, just because they were related, Shisui's position in the NPA must have also been the work of nepotism—except for the part where Itachi's father hated Shisui and would as soon run him over as give him a job.

"Just for this," Shisui declared, "you're doing all of our paperwork for the next three months."

Shinjuku traffic was hell. He was hemmed in on all sides by drivers he suspected were palsied octogenarians, and the longer he sat there stewing in his shitty car, the more he hated Tokyo and his job and his life.

"Except I always do our paperwork anyway," Itachi said. He highlighted another passage in a report, as if to prove a point. Shisui regularly saw him highlight everything from the morning papers to supermarket flyers, so it proved nothing other than the fact that Itachi should probably add OCD to his extensive list of mental disorders.

Shisui fumed, and jerked the car around an oncoming bus. "I hate you forever."

But he knew he would never be able to stay angry at Itachi for any length of time, because the thing was that he had basically saved Shisui's life—and he didn't just mean that in the literal sense, like all the times his partner had covered him during violent shootouts with armed robbers.

-x-

Shisui's parents had died in a goddamn train crash when he'd been thirteen, and these days, he could freely admit that it had kind of fucked him up. Most of his teens were lost in this blur of confusion and idiocy, wherein he'd worn a lot of black and chain-smoked and generally acted like a character out of a bad after school special. Then he'd entered high school, and along had come this batshit gnome of a genius cousin, chasing off all of Shisui's scary "friends" by being ten times scarier than all of them combined. Shisui wouldn't say that Itachi's blunt-force approach had made him want to be a better person—but maybe it had been like that anyway.

Rationally, Shisui knew that none of it was anything on the level of Agapic sacrifice, just the ABC's of growing up. Textbook stuff—but it'd still meant a lot to him. So much that after Itachi had finished high school, Shisui had decided to follow him to college, then into the Criminal Justice major, and because that hadn't been clingy and parasitic enough, he had joined Itachi in the NPA after graduation as well.

And just look at us now, Shisui thought, drumming a finger on the wheel as he waited for the light to turn. The model student and the punk. Together, they fight crime!

Beside him, Itachi finally put down his beloved highlighter. He didn't yawn, but his eyes had that glazed look about them that spoke to Shisui like a cue. He lifted the thermos out of the cup-holder, and silently handed it over.

"Thanks," Itachi said. Their fingers brushed, making Shisui's mouth go a little dry, which he ignored because it was stupid and would only feed his self-loathing.

After all these years, Shisui had to concede that his cousin wasn't very gnomish anymore, watching Itachi thumb off his glasses and tuck them into the glove compartment. That still didn't change the fact that he was sucking down coffee like it was a life-giving draught, so Shisui did the charitable thing and reached over to tug the folder of case files out of his hand.

"Those can wait," he said. "In case you've forgotten, we have Operation Doomed To Failure to contend with right now. Keep your savior complex on a leash until the night is over."

Itachi blinked widely, and without a trace of irony, said, "I don't have a savior complex."

"Don't worry," Shisui soothed. "It's only slightly bigger than your family complex."

Shisui had some pretty explicit opinions about the male contingent of Itachi's family, which he mostly kept to himself, but that was hard to do when he had to watch his best friend run himself ragged trying to live up to their ludicrous expectations. These past few months had been particularly difficult, given that Itachi's kid brother had developed the sudden awareness that he wanted to out-rebel his brother by dropping out of the Police Academy in his first year to join a Visual Kei band. This would probably be hilarious if Itachi's father wasn't such a dick about it.

Just when Shisui was convinced they had slipped into some kind of frozen time-stream, traffic began moving again, ferrying them along to their destination.

Splash Bar was big and loud and tacky-as-balls, the kind of has-been tourist trap that got hyped up in trendy lifestyle magazines and nobody with actual taste would be found frequenting. It lay smack in the heart of Shinjuku, sandwiched classily between a love hotel and a Karaoke Box, and had an enormous, bright green mermaid made of neon lights blinking above the entrance that actively made Shisui lose faith in humanity. If the drug dealers preferred to ply their trade here as opposed to any number of vastly superior venues across the city, they deserved whatever jail time they were going to get.

They pulled to a stop about a block from the entrance, and before the engine had even growled to a halt, Itachi had unhooked his seatbelt and slung a small duffel bag over his shoulder, presumably containing his work clothes.

"So," Shisui began, "what exactly is your cover, and why wouldn't Ibiki let me know about it?"

"You'll find out soon anyway," Itachi said obliquely.

"So you'll be front of the house too?" Shisui asked. "Should I pretend to hit on you when you bring me my drinks?"

Itachi shrugged, and slid out of his seat with an over-the-shoulder nod. On task as always—the way he was walking toward the nightclub, you'd think he was some kind of warrior of the Bushido code striding into battle, sword drawn, hair swept into an austere topknot, instead of an officer of the law playing at being an employment-seeking deadbeat. It wasn't hard to trace the pathology of his good intentions. There were weirdoes in every era, and if this were somewhere circa 200 AD, Itachi would be one of those people most frequently found tied to a tree and shot with arrows for sundry acts of martyrdom. Give it a dozen odd centuries, and he'd be a shinobi instead, sacrificing his friends and family for some vaguely-defined greater good.

He was like that, and would always be like that, even in this day and age with just a duffel bag and his ancient Todai sweatshirt with the scruffy, fraying cuffs.

Alone in the car, Shisui picked up the folder he'd liberated from Itachi and flipped idly through the contents, even though he already knew them by heart. Four missing schoolgirls. Double homicide. One rape. Another car bombing suspected to be the work of religious extremists. He understood the job, and he understood that the job could eat them alive. Idealism didn't win. Itachi might want to save the world or whatever, but he definitely wasn't going to accomplish that by repeatedly slamming his exceptional little head against this proverbial brick wall.

-x-

Shisui crisscrossed through Lower Shinjuku for a good hour and a half before circling back, parking the car in the garage of a nearby shopping mall. He pulled out the makeup kit and went to work—interesting, how a little paint and frill and some creative thinking could transform an upstanding agent of justice, dry lips, track marks on his arms, dark circles dabbed under the eyes. A little eyeliner for effect, and then he shrugged off his jacket, worked his shoulders loose to shake out the rigidity that screamed I'M A COP LIKE SERIOUSLY A COP, before making his way down the block toward the club's entrance.

Since he was a natural, by the time he was standing in line for the door, Shisui had already gleaned from the bouncer and the mixed-gender club-goers around him that he was apparently in for something called Amateur Night. Words like "awesome" and "wicked" and "mind-altering" got passed around like cheap party favors, but for some reason no one seemed inclined to enlighten him on the particular details of this special occasion.

Not that he'd come here for that, anyway. Kakashi might enjoy insinuating—or outright saying that Shisui could be easily distracted, but he was wrong, wrong, wrong. Shisui might suck a lot at, say, being a normal person, but he was good at his job. He was fucking awesome at his job. In the name of making the world a safer place, he was willing to brave a lot of horrible things, up to and including getting his Club Rat™ chic on and flirting outrageously and even slipping a few people the tongue. So far, no potential narcotic pusher was biting, but it was early yet. He made his way up to the huge dance floor on the second level, the inside of his skull resounding with the beats of the house mix the DJ was thumping out from behind her turntable.

With one last scan of the room, Shisui slinked into a corner and flipped out his phone to send a quick update to Ibiki—and because everyone he worked with was an asshole, he received no fewer than five text messages asking if he'd cured himself of his self-inflicted blue balls by tackling some twink into a bathroom stall yet. They had alarmingly good timing, because right then Shisui spotted one such twink—twinkette, really—flashing smoldering bedroom eyes at him from across the room. He was very… sparkly, made even more so by the tiny gold lamé thing he was sporting, basically underwear with ambition.

Before Shisui could engineer his escape, the boy had cleared the floor and gotten all into his personal bubble, blinking up at him with bright, liquor-glazed eyes. Shisui didn't even bother getting suspicious, because if there was one cardinal rule all dealers believed in, it was covering their tracks, and he could pick this guy out of a lineup blindfolded.

"Heeey," the twinkette crooned, batting his lashes coyly. There was even glitter in his badly bleached hair. "Didn't I see you at The Chemistry Lounge the other night?"

"No," Shisui said promptly. "No, you didn't."

Sparkly Twinkette did not look discouraged, but instead began to leer in a thoroughly worrisome way. "I knew you looked familiar," he purred, sidling up next to Shisui. "I really wanted to buy you a drink that night, but I couldn't get close enough to Mr. Popular."

Oh god. Oh good god, it was all coming back to him now. The other night was actually a month ago, when they'd just closed the case on the Junjo Butcher, nabbed the killer right in his hideout—his parents' fucking basement. Seventeen young boys, all elementary school age, bleached porcelain white and lovingly dressed, lining the dingy walls like human-sized dolls, and how the fuck were you supposed to deal with shit like that? He'd be surprised if anyone on the investigation team hadn't hit the bars that night.

That was the first time he'd slipped up in a very long time. Shisui didn't actually remember The Chemistry Lounge, only dark shimmering walls, lush velvet booths, house music—and that when he'd left, it had been with some nameless guy with dark hair and what Shisui's beer goggles had informed him to be aristocratic good looks. He hadn't been exactly wrong, but that hadn't made slinking out of an unfamiliar apartment the morning after any less soul-crushing. The only positive thing to have come out of that experience was that when he had shown up to work hung-over, Itachi had only glared at him a little for swiping his coffee.

His admirer, taking advantage of Shisui's distraction, began tracing the tattoo on his bicep with one painted finger. "Wow, you must work out a lot. So how about that drink?"

"How are you even legal to drink?"

Sparkly Twinkette gave him a saucy wink, and said, "I'm twenty-two," which was obviously a filthy, filthy lie. "Anyway, I'm Ryo. And what's your name, stud?"

"Ibiki," Shisui said, out of pure spite. "Hey, look, naked waiters!"

While Ryo was swiveling his sparkly bobble-head around, Shisui utilized his natural swiftness and ducked into the madding crowd, relocating to a spot further down the bar, closer to the stage, and far, far away from any underage stalkers on the prowl. He'd endure a lot in the name of justice, but being cruised by twelve-year-olds in gold lamé hot pants was definitely not part of his job description.

Shisui slid onto a stool, and hoped that Itachi, wherever he was, was making more headway with the club's staff than he was with its patrons. Having him work behind the scene was starting to seem like a good idea, since there was just no way could Shisui have in good conscience left his space cadet partner to the mercy of these predators roaming the floor.

"What're you having, prettycakes?"

Shisui looked up into the smiling face of his bartender, who was 9000 feet tall and wearing a full-length mermaid costume, complete with purple lipstick, a green wig, and luminous strings of sequins hanging from his seashell bikini top, draping tantalizingly over enviable six-packs. One of his enormous thumbs was caressing the puka-shell necklace at his throat in a highly X-rated way, skirting the edge of a very prominent Adam's apple.

"Red Devil," Shisui said, flashing his best grin. "Hold the ice."

The brick-house, not-so-little mermaid raised a thick eyebrow at him. "Starting strong, huh?" he said, smirking. "Hey, you're a cutie. First time?"

"Something like that. I hear this place can get pretty hot."

"It will soon. You're in for a show—it's Amateur Night."

"So they keep telling me," Shisui said, tilting his head winsomely. "What's the big deal, anyway?"

"Oh, honey," Booze Mermaid laughed. He leaned across the bar to brush his lush mouth across Shisui's ear. "Amateur Night is when we hold open audition for aspiring go-go dancers. Imagine this: an army of cute young hopefuls storming the stage, shaking what their mommas gave them. Sure, there isn't much finesse, but they're so enthusiastic and eager to please." He looked up, and clapped his hands together excitedly. "Look, here they come now!"

The music in the room suddenly skidded to a screeching halt, before blaring up again in a different, raunchier set of beats, pounding hard enough to jack your heart rate. The colorful strobe lights over the dance floor dimmed, as electric blue spotlights flared up on the main stage, illuminating the elevated catwalk, slick and outrageous and inviting. Immediately, the entire place exploded into a deafening mixture of shrieks and wolf-whistles, as the shimmery curtains snapped open and the promised army of go-go boys spilled onto the stage, all wet lips and dewy eyes, slim muscle under lush skin, glowing and supernatural in the flood of cerulean light.

And then, they began to dance.

Sitting there at the main bar, strategically positioned to scope out the back bar, dance floor, and catwalk at the same time, Shisui couldn't help but hate his assignment and by extension Ibiki a little less. He curved his lips around the cool rim of his glass in a smirk—all pretense, he was on duty after all—and propped himself against the bar top to watch the farcically lustful crowd rush the stage, eyes glazed and hands grabby, which went to show that zebra crossings had nothing on horny, chemically-enhanced clubbers.

If you had something nice to look at, he reasoned, you might as well just enjoy the view.

"Wow, check out that tasty little morsel over there," Booze Mermaid said, jabbing in the direction of the stage. "Boy is looking F-I-E-R-C-E."

Shisui's eyes followed the bartender's finger, at which point his world slipped off its axis and took a header into the most depraved and mortifying circle of hell.

-x-

Over the course of their decade-long friendship, Shisui had seen Itachi: happy, sad, angry, tired, healthy, sick, stressed, relaxed, hung over (once), and sleep-deprived (daily). Years of shared locker rooms, of helping each other change for gym, and whatever, they'd both seen each other naked. Shisui remembered that Itachi had been skinny and pale in a high school, a nerdy waif with those railroad bones and uneven wrists, violet ink coating the trimmed edges of his nails, and he also remembered the point when all that had changed. (Incidentally, this was also the Very Special Moment when he'd realized that maybe he didn't like girls very much after all.)

What Shisui hadn't seen was Itachi dressed in nothing but white knee-high platform boots and a pair of tight black Diesel shorts that barely passed for clothing, slipping suggestively off the sharp rise of his hipbones. Someone had—Shisui growled in incoherent rage—rubbed baby oil all over his chest and abdomen, so that the soft sheen of it glistened on every inch of his leanly muscled torso, glossy and almost surreal in that aquarium-blue light on the stage.

All of this would still have been (maybe) acceptable, if it weren't for the fact that Itachi was, like his similarly lubed-up cohorts, strutting around on the slinky catwalk to the grinding, pulsing beats of the music, executing lurid maneuvers straight out of Showgirls—and somehow doing it a million times better than everybody else. Shisui snapped his mouth shut with an audible click and tried to remain cool, but then almost fell off his stool when he saw Itachi defy the laws of physics in an immaculate and disturbingly sexy reenactment of Michael Jackson's signature tip-toeing move from the Smooth Criminal music video. Where had he even learned that? Suddenly, Shisui had a horrible epiphany regarding the nature of Anko's shit-eating expression when she'd told him about Itachi's "training sessions".

Desperately, he attempted to tear his eyes away from the stage and divert his attention elsewhere. This proved futile as his only real options were his undrinkable drink and Booze Mermaid, who had taken up the self-appointed task of delivering a running commentary, which mostly involved horrific utterances like, "See, what babycheeks there's got that the other boys don't is that he makes it look effortless. You don't wanna go up there and look like you're trying too hard, know what I mean? You'd never know he's not a pro looking at the way he's poppin' them hips."

He paused for a blessed moment to stare down at Shisui. "Honey, why you hiding your face?"

Shisui tried to choke out some feeble explanation about his contacts drying out or possibly that he'd spontaneously developed cataracts, but all that came out was garbled noise. He realized with detached horror that he could still see through the spaces where his fingers didn't perfectly align when Itachi sauntered right to the front of the stage and started getting freaky with a long silver necklace, drawing attention to the clean, graceful lines of his throat and collarbones.

The bar top. Pressing his face flat against the bar top would surely deliver him from this calamity.

Booze Mermaid knitted his brows together in concern. "You a straight boy or something?"

Shisui jerked his head up indignantly, and was about to launch into a heated defense about how he loved cocks, loved them so much, would go down on his knees right now if one were presented to him, but right then he caught out of the corner of his eyes the sight of Itachi dropping to his knees and arcing backward, propping himself up on his long, lissome limbs, flat smooth stomach bared to catch the light. Almost immediately, he snapped upright again, and still kneeling, began to writhe. Uchiha Itachi was writhing on stage. This was not hell. This was the place where the denizens of hell went afterhours to do whiskey shots and beat the crap out of each other—and by 'each other', Shisui meant 'his brain'.

If he weren't busy quietly hyperventilating in his mind, Shisui would, in an abstract way, admit that he was impressed with his partner. That unflinching willingness to roll with the punches was something Shisui had always admired, but on this occasion it had been ratcheted up to a whole other level. No one but Itachi could possess such a supreme capacity for detachment, the freakish ability to subtract himself from the moment at the drop of a hat. It was the kind of party trick that came in handy when he had to, say, physically restrain Shisui to prevent him from brutalizing the child killer they'd arrested last month—but probably much more so when he was called upon to wear stripperific clothes and slut it up for the good of society.

At this point, Shisui sensed somebody moving directly into his space. Ryo the Sparkly Twinkette must be back. Shisui hadn't been in the mood before; he definitely wasn't now.

"I told you I wasn't interested, okay?" he snapped. "Why don't you go find someone a little more diseased and—oh."

The man who had appeared at the bar arched one fine, fine brow at Shisui, and said, "My apologies." His voice was soft and amicable, but Shisui felt his heart slam to a stop anyway, because he was suddenly face to face with the one person in Tokyo whose presence could draw his attention away from—whatever it was that was going on at the other end of the room.

Madara Last Name Unknown (And Unimportant Since It Was Probably Fake) was some kind of yakuza boss, or possibly a yakuza boss's boss. There was an entire cabinet of case files devoted to him back at the NPA office, all of which managed to be at once astoundingly convoluted and notoriously useless. Beneath that slick façade of a business owner was a monster in the classic sense of the word—not that you'd be able to tell. Despite the fact that his name was connected to close to a hundred open investigations spanning nearly four decades, the motherfucker looked creepily youthful in person, a knife-edged quality of agelessness that suggested the best cosmetic surgery money could buy.

It was evidently worth every yen, Shisui thought, watching the silky drape of the luxurious and scandalously thin kimono slipping off one of Madara's sculpturesque, delicately inclined shoulders, the dark cloth striking a delicious contrast with his waxy skin. Even with his wildly inappropriate attire and ridiculous hair, he looked fetchingly disheveled, as though having just risen from bed after a long and languorous session with nubile boy triplets—and hey, to Shisui's best knowledge, he probably had.

He realized he was staring at the same time that he noticed Madara staring at him. At his elbow, a crystal glass had materialized, housing two fingers of an expensive-looking amber liquid.

"Sorry," Shisui muttered. "Thought you were someone else."

Madara shrugged elaborately. He lifted the glass to his lips, and asked, "Are you enjoying yourself?"

"The time of my life," Shisui replied, retreating to his baseline of "bored, kind-of-dumb club kid". "It's nice if you ignore the fact that the décor is, like, so totally 1995."

Booze Mermaid gave him a stern look. "Don't be so bitchy," he chided, and raised a decanter to refill Madara's glass. "That's my boss."

That wasn't in the files. A new acquisition, or was he a silent partner? Suddenly, this assignment was a great deal more interesting.

"That's alright," said Madara. Not kind, but benign. "I value my patrons' input. There's always room for improvement, after all."

"You're the owner?" Shisui said brightly. "Was this Amateur Night thing your idea?"

He grinned like a hammered raccoon, and stopped maybe an inch shy of putting a finger in his mouth and tilting his head, generally trying to convey as little intellectual fiber as possible. Undercover work required melding into the culture you were infiltrating, and that could mean anything from starting a fistfight to faking an overdose. Shisui knew a guy who knew a guy in the Osaka Division who had allegedly gone down on the manager of a nightclub he was investigating to maintain his cover—although that maybe wasn't the best example to emulate.

Madara continued to watch him with hooded eyes. In the dim, atmospheric lighting of the club, they seemed to be two colors at the same time. "That's right," he said after a moment. "I try to keep up a rotation of different themes throughout the week."

"Really?" Shisui quipped, and leaned boldly forward on the bar. "What's Thursday?"

Madara curved his mouth around the edge of his glass. He placed it back on the bar, and slid it back and forth between two long, tapered fingers in a way that was weirdly hypnotic. "Campus Thursday—a more relaxed, collegiate sort of atmosphere."

Shisui shifted his smile from 'simpering' to 'sultry', and inched in even closer. "Friday?"

Even accounting for all the crap that went down in the office on a daily basis, this was still the most bizarre conversation he had ever had. When it came down to it, he really was kind of loose.

It was, however, working, as this time Madara actually let his gaze flicker up and down Shisui's body, leisurely lingering. Then he smiled, low and metallic like a Tokyo sunset, and whispered, "Full Frontal." There was nothing mixed about those signals at all.

Back to bimbo territory. "And what's with the name anyway? Splash? That's carrying the mermaid theme a little too far, don't you think?"

Madara raised his eyebrow again, and cast a look at Booze Mermaid, who winced somewhat apologetically and said, "He's new, boss. I haven't gotten around to explaining things yet." If he'd noticed Shisui's sudden drop in IQ, he was diplomatically choosing not to comment on it.

"I see," said Madara, planting an elbow on top of the bar and propping his head on one hand. "You haven't had a chance to witness the famous Splash Shower." The gunmetal smile was back on his mouth. "Well, then, take a look."

And as if his words were some kind of cue, the noise level in the room cranked up to eleven, like the crowd by the stage was having some kind of frenzied fit. It soon became apparent why they were attempting to break the sound barrier, because when Shisui directed his attention to the stage, it was to the sight of hot water jetting down in a, well, splash from the full-length shower above the stage. The music had mellowed into a slow, tawdry number, and behind the tantalizingly thin wall of steam, all the dancers were swaying half-nakedly under the running water, their bodies sleek and gleaming, ribbons of water tracing sweet pectoral lines.

It was an impressive spectacle to behold, but because Shisui's entire life was wretched, wretched, wretched, his eyes immediately scoped out Itachi among the mass of wet, lithe bodies. Due to frequent practice, he found him almost instantaneously, lathering himself up under the streaming jets with wanton abandon. There was a cluster of bubbles perching jauntily on the dramatic rise of his left cheekbone. The intensity of Shisui's desire to jump on stage and lick it off was getting worrisome. He was having an out-of-body experience of the most ascendant kind, and his rapidly expiring brain had contracted to the point of having capacity to house only two things:

Fact the first: Puberty had not been kind to him, for it had evidently locked his psyches in a permanent state of perversion.

Fact the second: Itachi, his Itachi, was debauched and terrible and absolutely fucking beautiful, and Shisui could not, could not look away—

—until he broke the glass in his hand, and his mostly untouched Red Devil exploded all over the bar, splashing the front of his shirt.

Booze Mermaid flicked him an appraising look, and started chuckling. "Oh dollface, you are definitely not a straight boy."

Shisui glared at him loathingly, noting with dismay that a few pieces of glass had conveniently embedded themselves in the flesh of his thumb, which was now bleeding profusely. This was biologically implausible, because he was fairly certain that his erection had siphoned all the blood away from the rest of his body.

At this point, Madara made a soft, clucking noise of disapproval, and reached over to take Shisui's injured hand. He carefully removed the glass shards, and pulling Shisui's thumb up to his lips, proceeded to flick out his tongue and lick the wound.

Shisui stared. Booze Mermaid stared.

The universe did not implode. Madara's pink tongue continued to lave and slither its way seductively up and down the length of Shisui's finger like that was what it had been created to do all along. There were so many things wrong with that sentence he didn't even know where to begin.

His life was a farce. Up on stage, his best friend was acting out in exquisite details some of Shisui's deepest, most torrid fantasies, and down here his hand was being sensuously molested by a high-ranking member of the Tokyo underworld. There was undergoing ridiculous undercover assignments, and then there was undergoing ridiculous undercover assignments in a parallel but infinitely more bizarre reality. Any moment now something horrible would happen to him, like cancer or amnesia—or amnesiastic cancer. That would even be an improvement.

-x-

After an appropriately excruciating interval, the music finally rolled to a stop, the crowd giving one final, deafening whoop as the dancers disappeared backstage. Shisui breathed a sigh of relief, feeling the blood slowly seeping back into his brain. He clutched his newly-violated hand protectively, and made absolutely no eye contact when Madara rose from his seat and excused himself—"It's time for me to hand out the results to our wonderful contestants, excuse me."—all flirtatious intentions having evaporated into the miasma of confusion and humiliation that had settled around him like an atmospheric haze.

He only looked up to give Booze Mermaid the glare of ten million fiery deaths when the horrible man wagged his eyebrows in some manner of non-verbal innuendo and said, "You're really something, prettycakes," before sauntering off to cater to the alcoholic needs of other clubbers.

Shisui closed his eyes, and reached his metaphysical fingers deep into the cosmos to engage with the spiritual forces in hopes of borrowing some of the unflappable calm native to masters of Tai Chi or Feng Shui or possibly Ikebana. This didn't work, so he squeezed his eyes tighter and tried to think boner-killing thoughts. Fugaku. Ibiki. Fugaku with Ibiki. Fugaku with Ibiki and a horse.

Cringing in terror and self-disgust, he clenched his teeth, and was about to take a second dive onto the dance floor in search of evil-doers when out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of a familiar silk kimono and an even more familiar face.

Now where could our touchy-feely oyaji be heading?

His eyes followed Madara's distinctive coiffeur as the man strode across the room at the head of his thuggish posse. Judging by the way the heaving crowd was parting for them like butter under a hot knife, you'd think they had rigged the Jaws theme to accompany their every step (and maybe they had). Shisui rose to his feet, and made to follow as discreetly as possible.

Fitting in nicely with the tenor of this horrid evening, life threw him another curveball.

He blinked twice, shook his head three times. The scene didn't change. Itachi—fully dressed, running a towel through his wet, unbound hair—was still walking alongside Madara, conversing with him in an easy manner that in no way suggested an arrest was imminent.

Then there was some stuff where Shisui nearly sprained something throwing himself after the mini-entourage, shimmying between people in a race down the stairs, across the dance floor on the first level, and out the front door, where he found a black limousine parked in front of the club, gleaming like a weapon under the milky streetlight. He mumbled something to the bouncer about stepping out for a smoke, and slithered along the shadowed wall to keep an eye out for Itachi and his dumb Diesel-shorted ass. What the hell did he think he was doing?

The depressing thing was that Shisui could hazard a fair guess. The narcotic investigation was a fair catch, but in terms of importance, Madara was a much bigger… fish, and Itachi, eyes on the prize as always, had immediately seized the opportunity to cast the bait—the bait that was himself. It was the kind of decision-making ability that proved he was three shades and a murderous spree short of requiring an extended stay in a mental institution.

Just as Shisui was about to step forward and stage some kind of intervention, Itachi turned and caught his eyes. Shisui felt like he'd suddenly been kicked in the teeth. His partner, looking like an avenging angel, was giving him a cold look that promised nine circles of excruciating hell should he manage to blow their cover and wreck the investigation. Before his despairing eyes, Itachi climbed into the back of the ominous car, and was gone in a cloud of expensive exhaust.

Several minutes later, Shisui was still standing in the exact same spot. He was afraid that if he went back inside, he might suffer some kind of breakdown and kill everyone in the club. Instead, he skulked around the back alleyway phoning in an ETA to Ibiki, who seemed to take this latest development completely in stride. How did people manage that little trick?

A minute later, he received a text message. It was from Anko.

DID U SEE HIM DO THE MJ THING?

Shisui nearly broke the phone in half, and began plotting to swap out all of Anko's beer with bottles of mouthwash. Operation Abandon All Hope was going badly enough without his mind inexorably being drawn to thoughts of this lurid and highly cracktastic scenario where Itachi and Madara were for some reason sitting in a velvet-lined boudoir carrying on an esoteric intellectual discussion that somehow turned erotic halfway through. And after they had had a sufficient amount of pornographic beautiful-people sex, they would turn around and start pawing at Shisui, who just happened to be on the scene because hey, this was his fantasy and things just worked out that way, okay?

Shisui put his face in his hand, and came to terms with the fact that he was a terrible, terrible slut.

He lifted his face after a moment, and caught out of the corner of his eyes a guy—young, jittery, way too lean—giving him a tentatively considering look. There was something about the kid's face, a kind of drawn, willfully-schooled innocence that pinged his suspicion. So he let his muscles loosen, and tried to look as glassy-eyed and strung out as possible, giving off a vibe of I-don't-give-a-fuck which he sort of knew how to do given his youth as a Rebel Without A Cause. He leaned against the wall and dropped his head back, flicking dark come-hither glances from under heavy lashes, flashing the fake track marks on the inside of his arms.

It worked like a charm. The expression on the (now evident) junkie tightened with newfound confidence. No doubt about it. This was the real thing.

"Hi," said the kid, voice gone slightly pitchy. "Um, would you like to—"

Shisui gave him a slow smile, tipping his head. "Would I like to what?"

The kid's face went visibly red even in the feeble light of the alleyway. When he spoke, the jitter had slipped into his voice. "W-would you like to have some fun?"

As a matter of fact, he did, and allowed his companion to lead him downstairs to the loungier area of the club, a lower-lit, lower-key vibe, illuminated by red spotlights. The kid seemed palpably nervous, and Shisui realized he couldn't have been doing this for very long. He looked pretty young, possibly younger than Ryo the Twinkette. Soft, watery eyes and a quick, shy grin—maybe even a year ago you could have seen him coming home from cram school. Shisui felt a little disgusted with himself, but he was an undercover operator and not a social worker so he'd just have to deal with not being able to look himself in the mirror at a later date.

"Hey," he said, grabbing the kid's wrist. "Hold on a second."

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong." Shisui leaned in, boxing him into a wall with his arms. "You said we could have some fun." He slid his teeth over his bottom lip, and angled his head deliberately to let the red light catch on the sheen of moisture. "Is it going to be my kind of fun?"

A hungry gleam flared in the junkie's eyes. Young or not, he recognized a business opportunity when he saw one. "What do you need?"

Shisui flashed him another bladed smile, channeling his inner Madara (hating himself for the fact that he apparently had an inner Madara). "Shhh," he shushed, finger to his lips. He raised his thumb and brushed it firmly across the kid's lips, tracing the bowed curve, and then pressed his mouth into the warm, intricate little spot right below his ear where his jaw line ended, to make his whispered request.

"Oh," said the kid, completely breathless. "Oh, okay. W-wait here. I'll be right back."

Shisui watched him leave, and stood against the wall triaging the situation for exactly five minutes before pushing himself off and following quietly.

Five minutes later, he barreled out through the club's backdoor into the alley, and frantically pressed Speed Dial Ibiki. "It's right here," he hissed into the phone. "Fuck, it's right under the damn club—I can't believe the balls on those motherfuckers."

"Good work," Ibiki said. "We have the search warrant ready to go. The raid team's on standby." He barked a garbled command at someone on his end, and went on, "We're going in—swamp formation. Get yourself suited up, Agent Uchiha, and meet us in five."

Shisui pumped his fist in triumph. He quickly ducked behind the dumpster and dragged out the duffel bag he had stashed there earlier in the night. He pulled on the ballistic vest and cocked his trusty Glock 22, feeling her handle smooth and dangerous under his grip. Adrenaline was already coursing through his system like a rollercoaster. He put on his game face. Go time.

From there, it was just another standard bust, kicked-in doors and shattered glass, some confused yelling, a slick, dingy basement floor covered with more illegal substances than the penthouse of a Colombian drug lord. Most of the dealers allowed themselves to be apprehended like good little kittens; at this rate, the team might even make it home in time for a decent night's rest.

Of course, it was just stupid to think that, because right then one of the dealers got all panicked and desperate and decided to get creative with a handgun. He'd managed to raise the weapon before any of them could shoot the son of a bitch in the throat, and Shisui realized with a jab to his chest that the only person in the direct line of fire was the skinny kid who had tried to sell him drugs earlier, looking terrified and petrified to the spot. He was an addict and a pusher, irredeemable trash as far as society was concerned, and probably no one would care if he died here tonight—but he was still somebody's son and kids like him had nobody to be their advocate.

They told you going in that it took years for the scars to form over your knuckles in this profession, to bleed all the starry-eyed Hollywood notions out of your tender newbie heart—Shisui had only had two, so it wasn't terribly surprising that, when the gun went off, he had leapt into the air and probably toward certain death.

There was a moment of complete horrifying silence, during which time Shisui was sure that he was about to die, and then he crashed into the kid and felt the bullet slice through the muscle of his upper arm. He couldn't really feel it through the adrenaline, but judging by the blood that was already gushing liberally from the wound, he was in for a hellish time. While the dealer was being disarmed and tackled to the ground by a minor army consisting of Ibiki, Anko, Kakashi and several others of Japan's finest, Shisui pulled himself up and looked down at the kid, who was pale-faced and shaking hard enough to register on the Richter scale.

"Are you okay?" he managed to say between clenched teeth.

The kid looked up at him with wild, haunted eyes. "T-thank you," he choked, and then buried his face in the front of Shisui's ballistic vest and broke down into huge, bawling sobs. Shisui didn't know if he would be alright, would ever manage to dig himself out of the hole his life had become, but at least this way, he would have a fighting chance. Everyone deserved that much.

-x-

Later, Shisui would reflect that in his line of work, this kind of behavior very often resulted in painful, ignoble death.

On the other hand, he was already going to get struck by lightning one of these days for various counts of sexual transgression anyway, so it wasn't like his tendency to rush into the line of fire was going to skew the odds on his life expectancy in any significant way. He sat in the back of the ambulance mulling over this depressing reality while the EMT dressed his wound and Ibiki gave him shit about being a reckless moron with no sense of self-preservation. Somewhere around Ibiki's fifth rotation of, "And you'd better pray to your dead-ass ancestors that none of this gets back to the agency in the form of bad press or so help me God," Kakashi finally took pity on Shisui and drew their superior away for an interview with half the Japanese press corps currently parked outside the club. Shisui took the opportunity and ran for it.

Dazed-looking clubbers were being herded off the premises in throngs. Shisui steered clear of the crowd, focusing on trying to reach his Zen place while dry-chugging painkillers. In the future, if anyone ever asked about this night, he would seriously have to plead the fifth.

"Agent Ibiki!"

Shisui viscerally felt his Zen place vanish when he swiveled around and found himself face to face with Ryo the Sparkly Twinkette, looking more voracious and starry-eyed than ever.

"I totally heard about your heroics back there, Secret Agent," Ryo simpered, with a distinctly sexual emphasis on the last two words. "Someone said you went all James Bond and stuff on the bad guy—it made my heart all pitter-patter."

"I have a gun," Shisui said, backing away slowly.

Ryo looked entirely too intrigued by this information. His eyes gleamed with predatory fascination. "Kinky," he said, edging in closer. "Come on, I promise, promise, promise I'm really twenty-two. You can check my ID."

Shisui stared into Ryo's kohl-lined eyes, and realized to his horror that he was actually starting to consider it. He blamed this lapse in judgment on trauma, all the vicious battering his self-esteem had taken tonight, and the fact that, objectively speaking, Ryo was not unattractive, glitter-strewn eyelashes and all. His attention, albeit terrifying and profuse, was flattering in a perverse way, and Shisui was kind of easy anyway.

"Shisui!"

Shisui turned, and felt something soar in his chest when he saw Itachi striding toward him out of the confused crowd. His hair was damp and sticking to his forehead a little, clinging to the long curve of his neck in an utterly obscene way. He was still wearing that sinfully ugly Todai sweatshirt, but Shisui was seriously afraid that he'd never be able to look at Itachi from now on without mentally undressing him, which further proved what a shit friend he was.

"You should have told me you were taken," Ryo said, visibly deflated. Then he gave Itachi a quick once-over, and began to lick his lips appreciatively. "Not bad. Call me up if you're ever up for a little ménage à trois action, okay?"

"Please go as far away from me as possible," Shisui pleaded. It was hard to believe that, just a minute ago, he had actually almost considered hitting that.

He spared one brief paranoid moment to make sure that Ryo was really, truly gone, before turning around to face Itachi—and his most vicious expression ever.

"You got shot," Itachi stated, in a tone Shisui felt to be unduly accusatory.

"Only a little," he said, and winced when Itachi grabbed his injured arm. "Hey, ow! Be careful with that. I got shot."

Itachi ignored him, eyes riveted to the wrappings around Shisui's arm like he wanted to set the gauze on fire with his gaze. Then he snapped up like a pit bull, and gave Shisui one of those looks, the ones reserved for people he deemed inferior to cabbage, evolutionarily speaking.

"Why didn't you call me for backup?" Itachi said, consonants sharp as nails.

Shisui crossed his arms over his chest. "I already had backup—and besides, you were probably too busy indulging in champagne and fresh-picked strawberries in the back of that limo to answer your phone anyway." Speaking of which... "What the hell do you think you're doing? You're blowing your cover!"

Itachi gave him a maddening stare, and then tossed his head dismissively. "That investigation's already been compromised," he said. "We did what we came here to do. The rest is up to the agency."

"Did anything happen?" Shisui asked. "Did he… touch you inappropriately?"

Itachi just leveled a blank, blank stare at him, which reassured Shisui not at all. After all, Madara had definitely touched him inappropriately, and Shisui wasn't even the one who had climbed willy-nilly into the man's limousine or anything. He tried to suppress the expression of intensely painful jealousy on his face, but it was very hard.

"Of course I had no time to gather any useful information," Itachi said flatly. "We were still sitting in traffic when Madara received a call about his club being raided by the NPA."

"Oh," Shisui said. "Right." Suddenly, he felt an effusive surge of love for Tokyo traffic. "I guess that's a good thing," he mumbled. "How would you have concealed the wiretap while giving a lap dance?"

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Stay here," Itachi said brusquely. "I have to go give a report to Ibiki-san"

He marched off without a further word. Shisui gave the back of Itachi's stupid head the gimlet eye, but his attention was soon caught by a more interesting prospect. Standing in a flood of camera flashes, Madara was holding court over an ocean of reporters, looking more like a preening celebutante than a man whose nightclub had just been ransacked by NPA agents. At some point since their last meeting, he'd found time to change into a dark pinstripe suit—which, if Shisui wasn't mistaken, seemed to be a piece off of Armani's fall-winter lineup. (Sometimes, it truly depressed Shisui how much he was, in some aspects, kind of a stereotypical gay man.)

The bastard had managed to come out of this one clean as snow. They had suspended Splash's operation indefinitely, arrested both the manager and promoter, and even the motherfucking realtor was implicated—but they couldn't touch Madara. Not yet, Shisui thought, clenching his jaw. One of these days, he was bound to slip up, and on that day, Shisui would make sure to be there. He wanted ringside seat.

At this point, Madara spotted Shisui. He bid his adoring public a graceful farewell, and made his way over. Shisui immediately patted himself down to make sure that he was wearing his shoulder holster, the Glock within easy reach.

"I'm given to understand that I am speaking to the hero of the hour," Madara said, in the same slick, rolling voice.

"Depends on who you talk to," Shisui said bitterly, and looked about ten yards to his left, where Itachi and Ibiki were in medias what appeared to be a tense discussion. His boss's face, he noted, was a thundercloud of scars and wrinkles, and Itachi was actually using hand gestures as he spoke, so Shisui was considerably glad not to be having any part in that conversation.

Madara followed his gaze, a smile playing on his lips. "So it appears my new star-dancer is actually your partner," he said. "You two make quite a team."

Shisui lurched forward, trying not to wince as his arm burned. "If you laid one finger on him…"

"What a strange accusation," Madara said, affecting innocence. "Why do you think I would do anything to an NPA undercover agent?" He paused, smiled broadly, and continued, "Though I suppose I should apologize for… what transpired between us earlier. All in good fun."

"You knew I was NPA too?" Shisui asked.

Madara shrugged. "Even if I hadn't known, the perma-dirt would have given you away." He raised one of his white, spidery hands and splayed the fingers to show the faint rings of carbon stain in the creases of his fingers, residue ground into the skin from prolonged contact with firearms. Shisui fought the urge to open his own palms and look at the identical marks there.

"Permanent dirt," Madara mused. "Rather apropos, isn't it?"

Shisui eyed him coldly. "Poetry's not my thing, but I'll make sure to look out for your name on the bestsellers list." And a couple of other lists too, preferably ones with the words Most Wanted somewhere in the titles.

"I had no reason not to cooperate with your investigation," Madara went on easily. "So there was no reason to disclose my knowledge at the time."

Shisui narrowed his eyes. "You're even okay with the fact that your club's been suspended and you'll have to pay an enormous fine?"

"It was a poor investment on my part," Madara said, lifting one light, expensively-clad shoulder. "I'll just have to be smarter next time. In fact, I already have my eye on a new venue."

He dipped his fingers into his breast pocket, fished out a squarish piece of paper, and handed it to Shisui. It was a business card, black, silky to the touch, eggshell-textured. The lettering was a deep red, some kind of fancy type that probably had a nonsensically obscure name. It read: Club Akatsuki. Apparently for some people, tackiness was just in the blood.

Madara, presumably interpreting Shisui's grimace as appreciation, said, "It's located on the penthouse floor of the Mirage Hotel in Ginza. Also owned by me. You should come to the opening. It'd be such a waste not to pursue the eruptive sexual chemistry between us."

"What eruptive sexual chemistry?"

"Bring your partner, if you'd like. Show this card at the door, and you'll have access to the VIP lounge." His mercurial eyes glittered. "That's where I have the Jacuzzis set up."

"And probably the mountable fully automatics," Shisui said, crushing the card in his fist.

Madara gave him a smile very typical of someone who ruled multiple criminal syndicates. "Now whatever could you be implying?" he whispered, and took a step backward, fading into the night like the bloodsucker that he was.

-x-

It occurred to Shisui he needed to sit down when the combination of blood loss and cheap painkillers dissolved the world into strange ripples around him, reality wobbling in some kind of gravity-free zone. Unfortunately, he hadn't had time to so much as stagger against a wall before Itachi was beside him again, his cold anger jarring Shisui back into the moment like a fire alarm. This was the reason why, should they ever be called upon to play good cop, bad cop, Itachi would totally be the Hardass McBadCop.

"Let's go," Itachi said curtly. "I'm taking you home. You're on leave until you make full recovery."

"It's just a flesh wound for fuck's sake," Shisui protested. "I don't want to go on leave. I have a ton of shit to do, and every time I go on leave, something horrible happens."

"You don't have much of a choice," Itachi informed him. "Ibiki-san wants you out of the office until the media boom settles. Until then, Agent Mitarashi will be taking over all of your cases."

Shisui bit back a snarl, and resolved to start spreading the rumor that Ibiki and Anko were carrying on a sordid office romance.

"I'll drive," Itachi said, and took Shisui by the shoulder—thankfully the left one. As they passed her on the way out, Anko looked up from her clipboard and gave Shisui a thumbs-up along with a filthy wink that he was feeling too dizzy and homicidal to even try to interpret.

They weaved out of the police-taped area, dodging news vans and the jungle of microphones being thrust at them, barking, "No comment!" as needed. The camera flashes left sharp pinpricks on the back of Shisui's eyelids, and he had a sneaking suspicion that tomorrow's papers would be flooded with unflattering shots of his pale, harrowed face and the conspicuous white bandage around his arm, accompanied by scathing commentaries about the declining standards in Japan's law enforcement. He experienced an unforeseen appreciation for his forced vacation—if any of those articles made it above the fold, Ibiki would surely string him up for target practice.

Itachi found their car, unlocking the door and slipping into the driver's seat in one long, continuous move. That economy of motion couldn't be taught. Itachi was so smooth and frictionless Shisui at times wondered where the imperfections were hiding. At least he knew they were there. It was nothing short of amazing, really. Shisui wasn't the one who had strutted around half naked on a glittering stage letting men stuff money into his underwear that night, and still he was coming out of this ordeal with less of his dignity intact. It was probably his just deserts for calling his boss's boss's boss an asshole at that one "family" dinner awhile back.

As they rolled out of the parking structure, Shisui sank into his seat and tried to make himself as comfortable as possible. He felt stretched thin, his skin like dull paper over aching muscles. For the first time in years, he craved a cigarette.

"When your vacation is over," Itachi said, "I think you should put in a request for a new partner."

"What?"

Shisui almost bolted up clean out of his seat, feeling a cold sweat break out all over his body. All in one night, he'd been shot at by drug dealers, chewed out by his boss, and relentlessly propositioned by creepy men—this was seriously the last thing he could handle.

Itachi shrugged lightly. "It would be better for you to work with someone you're more comfortable being around."

"So that's it?" Shisui said. His voice sounded ragged, angry, and hurt—made sense, since he was feeling a little of each. "I get my arm scratched up one time, and you don't want to work with me anymore? Damn it, Itachi, I'm really sorry for being too—what's the word—too human. Obviously someone like that isn't perfect enough to be your partner."

"I think being my partner means that you let me know when you're in need of assistance," Itachi said tightly. City lights made flying streaks on his face. "I think being partners means that we work together, and you don't rush into danger when I'm not there to have your back."

Shisui blinked, and saw, as though for the first time, the tense line of Itachi's shoulders, his thin hands white-knuckled over the steering wheel. From there, it took him no time at all to remember that Itachi had always been meticulous and possessive about the things he considered his, like his work and his personal space and his annoying-ass brother. It only now occurred to Shisui that maybe, just maybe, he belonged in that category too.

"If you can't even trust me enough to do that much," Itachi continued, "then no, I don't want us to work together."

"Hey," Shisui said. "It's not—it's not like that." He reached out tentatively, and closed his fingers around Itachi's shoulder, feeling the corded muscles taut beneath his hand.

"I'll try to be more careful from now on," he went on, contrite. "It was only a few drug dealers, really. Not even very big ones."

Itachi responded with a dry little snort, but his grip on the wheel did seem to relax fractionally. Shisui knew an opening when he saw one. "I mean," he pressed, "I'm not trying to be a wise guy here, but we've both been shot at before. This is a freaking graze. How would you react if, say, next month I get shot in the neck or something?"

"I'm aware that's a possibility," said Itachi. "This isn't about that."

"It's not?"

Itachi stared at the road. "It's my fault too," he said, after a moment. "I shouldn't have left."

"No, it was a good call," Shisui argued. "I know how much you want to nab Madara." At this, Itachi made a strange choking noise in his throat. "I want to nab him too—and one of these days, we will. Getting the dirt on our resident Godfather is much more important than me getting shot."

Itachi glanced over at him briefly. "No, it isn't," he said, and turned back to the road.

It was nearing four in the morning, but there were still a few other cars out, slow-moving stragglers awash in burnt-orange streetlights. Shisui watched them drift past the window, and wondered if there were others like him out there in the night. Perhaps they should all get together and form some kind of support group—Passengers Hopelessly In Love With Their Drivers Anonymous. His head felt heavy. He propped it against the glass pane, and closed his eyes.

He must have dozed off at some indeterminate point, because when he cracked his eyes open again, they were off the highway and circling into his dodgy-as-hell neighborhood. There was music streaming softly from the car radio, tuned into one of the faux-hip stations that played foreign songs. Something pop. English. He vaguely recognized the twanging strains of the guitar.

"I know this song," Shisui said drowsily. "It has really meaningful lyrics."

Itachi appeared to be raising his eyebrow. "Which part of it do you find meaningful?"

Shisui tilted his head in thought. "Mostly the beginning. 'My hands are shaking from carrying this torch for you.' Carrying a torch for a long time must be really hard." He rubbed his eyes drowsily. "Your arms would get tired."

"I don't think those lyrics mean what you think they mean," said Itachi, a smile in his voice.

"Of course they do," Shisui groused. "He's singing about someone being in a one-sided love, unable to tell the object of their affection. 'My love is so articulate, but I am such a mess.' See?"

God, he was speaking in cheesy song lyrics now? Maybe if he was lucky, his gunshot wound would contract necrotizing fasciitis and release him from this misery.

Itachi let the car taxi to a stop, pulling up in front of Shisui's apartment building. "You should go upstairs and get some sleep," he said.

"No need," Shisui mumbled, and burrowed deeper into the upholstery. "I'm already asleep."

"You'll be more comfortable in your own bed," Itachi pointed out, and without thinking, Shisui replied, "Yeah, but you won't be there."

He almost bit his tongue in half, but the damage was gone.

Just as well. It was a lost cause anyway, and he might as well resign himself to the fact that this badly concealed crush was getting sadder and more badly concealed by the day. He was still debating the relative merits of faking hypovolemic shock, when Itachi turned to him and said, voice soft, "Perhaps I was waiting for an invitation."

Shisui frowned and started to say, "Since when did you need an invita—" but stopped himself midsentence.

"Seriously?" he asked, eyes widening.

"Yes," said Itachi, mouth quirking. "Seriously."

Shisui's mind shut down completely. Perhaps none of this was really happening. Perhaps he was having a delirious episode, which was probably a sign that his injury had gone into sepsis and he would soon be losing use of his right arm. Did that mean he should start looking into the prosthetics market? This wasn't fair. He was fucked in the head, halfway through death's door, judgment-impaired; he wasn't remotely prepared for whatever was about to come next.

What came next was that Itachi walked Shisui up to his apartment, helped him undress, and tucked him into bed before going off to nest on the mind-bogglingly ratty couch that Shisui had actually picked up off the street the day after he'd moved in. It was irrefutable proof that, years after he'd supposedly cleaned up his act, his life was still kind of a hot mess, but that concern wasn't of the highest priority to him at the moment. Exhaustion was sucking him under, singing every bone in his body to slumber, smudging the borderlines of his consciousness. Shisui pressed his face into the pillow, pulling at the cool sheets, and just before he fell asleep, he felt the bed depress near his shoulder, felt a brush of fingers through his hair, caught in the tired curls.

-x-

He woke late the next day to the white sliver of light peeping out from under his window blind, and the distressing realization that, while Itachi had been a showstopper in the Diesel shorts and go-go boots of the previous night, he looked even more devastating in one of Shisui's old dress shirts, white sleeves rolled up to his elbows, three buttons undone. He was standing in Shisui's kitchen making miso soup out of ingredients found god-knew-where, since Shisui couldn't even remember the last time he'd bought eggs.

While brushing his teeth, Shisui stared at his washed-out face in the mirror, the chalky skin and bruised circles under his eyes, and realized that he wasn't used to having someone that he hadn't slept with around in the morning. This probably said something about his character, but he couldn't be fucked to figure out what that something was.

Itachi did not look up as he passed, but rapped the spatula sharply across Shisui's wrist when he attempted to reach for the coffee tin.

"I make perfectly good coffee," Shisui sulked, rubbing his wrist.

"Of course you do," Itachi said, and went back to beating eggs."Please go unwrap that packet of tofu I left out on the counter."

It seemed absurdly easy to be brave then, the way it had never been before. Shisui deliberated for the three seconds it took to determine that he still had a functioning right arm before putting both to use wrapping around Itachi's narrow waist. He buried his face into a shoulder, the worn-soft fabric of the shirt. It smelled like himself—his detergent, his shower gel, his aftershave. His skin. You couldn't come back from something like that, Shisui thought, and pulled Itachi in closer, likening the shape of their bodies to each other, well-made imitations. Taking refuge in audacity.

"Hey," he whispered into sun-crisp cotton. "Good morning."

Itachi's hands didn't pause, cracking another egg into the bowl. "Same to you. Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah," Shisui said. "You know, despite what I said, you didn't actually have to stay over. Sleeping on that couch feels like sexual harassment."

"I don't think that's much of a problem for me at this point," Itachi said.

Shisui frowned. "Are you talking about last night?"

"I'm talking about all the heckling Mitarashi-san gave me during the training with the dance instructor," Itachi replied, severe and almost testy. Shisui felt for him deeply.

"And then there was the visit to the waxing parlor."

"…Damn."

"Exactly."

"Fucking Anko," Shisui muttered darkly. "Hey, do you still have those boots?"

"I left them in the car," Itachi said. He sounded amused. "Why?"

"Burn them."

Itachi angled his head slightly, so that they were almost face to face. "That wasn't the answer I expected."

"If you're about to say something about a private show, just stop while you're ahead," Shisui warned. "I don't want anything of the kind. Ibiki is a deranged man—he probably suffers from PTSD. In the future, don't do something insane just because he tells you to."

"I was under the impression that was our job," Itachi mused.

"We can get new jobs," Shisui said. "Seriously, don't do stuff like that anymore. It fucks with my head, and I kind of need that to, you know, live and catch criminals."

It suddenly occurred to him that they had been standing like that for a good while now, curled into each other's space, and maybe now was a good time to reconsider that alternate universe theory, because how was this even possible? He had known Itachi for nearly a decade, but he'd never seen him like this: boneless and mild in the honeyed morning sun. Shisui didn't know where the hell all his steel-muscled tension had gone, but he didn't want it to come back.

"What other job could you get?" Itachi asked. "You don't have any other marketable skills."

"It's true," Shisui said quietly. "I'm a fighter. It's the same for you. All we know how to do is fight." You could take the boy out of the fight, but you couldn't take the fight out of the boy.

For a moment, Itachi just looked at him. Then he smiled, almost resignedly, and lifted his chin to press a careful kiss to the corner of Shisui's mouth. Solemn. Unhurried. Shisui couldn't do anything but close his eyes then, feeling like a person who'd tripped headfirst into a river, the shock of water cool and brisk, sobering on his skin. It made something heavy lodge inside his chest that he couldn't seem to swallow down, because it shouldn't be this easy—and it wasn't. Everything about it felt a little sad, a little broken. Like maybe this was all they could ever have.

They had known each other since childhood, true, but they were all grown up now. What they shared was this exhausting and kind of awful life that never seemed quite worth it, and neither really had it any better than the other. While Itachi toiled and strained within the trapping reins of his family, Shisui bucked at all the ugliness he should frankly be used to by now, ran roughshod to the bottle and the crush of strangers' bodies whenever something went wrong at work, which was all the fucking time. In that way, perhaps they hadn't grown up at all.

But that was defeatist mentality, and lame besides. Even though some days Shisui still felt a lot like that thirteen-year-old who'd been so fucked up and scared and lost in his own head, they'd still given him a gun and badge and everything, right? It was time to sack up and fight the current.

He moved his lips to the side of Itachi's neck then, pressed a greedy kiss there and sucked lightly at the warm skin, until he felt Itachi shudder discreetly beneath him, head tilted back, breaths quickened. Itachi shifted and turned in the circle of Shisui's arms, movements languid with the pleasing simplicity of a Sunday morning. He threaded his fingers through Shisui's hair, skimming down the back of his neck—this was only like the second time he'd done it, but already Shisui could feel the sense memory trigger and trill all the way in his spine, down to every last vertebra, making him lean into the touch. He dipped his face, bringing their foreheads together, the frames of Itachi's glasses cool and metallic on his skin.

"Why are you wearing glasses to cook, anyway?" Shisui murmured. "Are you going blind from all that caffeine abuse?"

"I do it because you like them," Itachi explained, and sounded smug, because he knew he was right, bastard genius-gnome.

Nevertheless, he reached up and pulled off those glasses Shisui liked so much, set them down on the counter next to the abandoned spatula. And then, lightning fast, Itachi's fists were knotted into the front of his t-shirt, teeth scraping across the flesh of Shisui's mouth. His kiss was all force and militaristic precision, like he wanted to climb inside Shisui's skin and drag out by the throat the part of him that lived like a wrecking ball, a loaded gun, take it apart and rearrange the components into something else entirely, the way that only he could.

Just for that asshole move, Shisui dug bruising fingers into Itachi's hips and pressed him back against the kitchen counter, socketing their bodies together. He slid a thigh between Itachi's legs and bit his bottom lip, sucked slow, bruising kisses down the long line of Itachi's throat, into the divot of his collarbone, and took advantage of the fact that Itachi hadn't bothered doing his shirt up properly to leave a possessive ring of teeth on the curvature where his neck met his shoulder. When Itachi went back to work tomorrow, everyone in the office would see these marks—everyone would know, and Shisui didn't seem to care.

They were T-minus 45 seconds away from rechristening Shisui's kitchen floor in a new and innovative way, when Itachi said, breathless, "We should redress your wound."

"Later."

"Breakfast?"

"Not hungry." His stomach made a concerted effort to disagree, but he ignored its traitorous ways and applied himself instead to nipping the edge of Itachi's jaw.

"You didn't make a move for years," Itachi said, and leaned back, cradling Shisui's face in his hands to look him in the eyes. It was terribly difficult to follow what he was saying when he looked all drowsy and thoroughly kissed like that. "Why are you in such a hurry now?"

Shisui did not say, "Because I'm still not entirely sure this isn't all part of some hallucinogenic breakdown, but just in case it is, I want to ride it out for as long as I possibly can."

He said, "I play fast and loose like that. It's actually sort of a problem."

This was not an understatement. He was like a Lamborghini when it came to sex: 0 to breakneck in 3.9 seconds.

Itachi continued to gaze at him silently. His face held an expression Shisui knew very well, because it was the same one that he'd worn poring over mathematical equations in high school, or term papers in college, or impossibly hair-tearing case files in the last two years. Piercing. Incredibly focused. Dissembling a theory.

Then he lifted the corners of his clever, cousin-kissing lips, and eased his features into yet another familiar expression, full of triumph, one that Shisui loved even more and would never, ever cease to be wowed by. What this expression meant was that he had pieced all the patterns together, and that they were going to catch the bad guy and everything was going to be alright. It looked no less resplendent here in Shisui's warm, sun-drenched kitchen than it did in the dull-yellow lamplight of their office at three o'clock on many a bone-weary morning.

With all the confidence of a natural born genius, Itachi tilted his head, eyes crinkled, and said, "I can fix that."

And the thing was.

The thing was that Shisui didn't have a shred of doubt about it, because his best friend was brilliant, a prodigy, could dismantle the barebones structure of the universe and rebuild it instantly if he wanted to. He'd figured out infinitely more complicated things—in comparison, Shisui must seem like an open book, basic math, no Fermat's Last Theorem or anything. So if Itachi believed that he could fix him, then of course he could. Of course he could.

"I look forward to it," Shisui said, and tamped the smile down just long enough to tip it into Itachi's mouth.

-x-

It's the chemistry and the things we shouldn't do – I am nothing without you.

(Sondre Lerche, "Virtue and Wine")

-x-

The End


A/N: If you can place which movie Itachi's last line is stolen from, we are clearly soul mates and should immediately elope.