Shisui hadn't technically seen Itachi since the last godawful 4th of July party at which the Uchiha 'adults' all got slightly too tipsy to keep their stiff upper lips and started trash-talking the Hyuugas like it was the goddamn national sport, and Shisui stole Itachi's phone to take a few incriminating pictures and also get his number and Itachi took it back with a sourball expression as if Shisui had borrowed his Armani jacket and then used it to blow his nose, but at 2AM the funniest ideas occur to you, and this was one of those times.

So he sent Itachi a brief, explanatory text message, and then continued to wait in the gas-station parking lot, perched on his duffel bag and trying to count, in the dim florescent lighting, just how many nickels he had in his pockets. There were a lot. He had very deep pockets, but unlike the clan, his were literal. Also unlike the clan: his were depressingly finite.

Im goin hobo 4 a week u coming?

He didn't have to wait long for a reply; Itachi was the quintessential fastidious child, even if Shisui had definitely woken him up.

When did you get my number?

Oooh, that was a tough one. Shisui had to actually think about that for a while, and the empty parking lot - not quite empty, there was a dumpster propped up like a tipsy hooker against the fence in the back - was not exactly bursting with inspiration.

uh, facebook!

Genius. It wasn't stalking, Shisui told himself, if it was your boyfriend.

I don't even have a facebook account, Shisui's cellphone buzzed at him a few seconds later, Itachi's name somehow very disapproving as it stared up at him from the little LCD screen, and Shisui winced.

Look, u wanna go wit me or not?

How many minutes, Shisui wondered, do people spend in their lives, waiting in gas stations? Surely it tallies up to a few days, in the end. Assuming you live long enough. But that's the trick, isn't it - living long enough. Having thought that, Shisui noticed with annoyance the chill in the air, a semi-theatrical premonition of Things To Come as far as seasonal shifts were concerned, and he grimaced.

His cellphone buzzed again.


Really, Shisui told himself, shouldering his duffel with one hand, texting back with the other, and beginning to trek down the desolate, eerie-late-night-suburbia street to his cousin's house: He hadn't expected Itachi to agree to a caper of this inanity, but it was two - no, two fifteen - in the morning, and stranger things had happened.

"You know what it's like to starve?"

A pinched, shrinking feeling - a headache, a buzz in your veins because you forget to drink water until your blood tingles and rudely reminds you. What did you eat today? Two pop tarts. Well, that's not much, is it? No, it isn't, but you still don't fit into size zero jeans, which are too short for you anyway, so fuck everything.

Yesterday you didn't eat anything at all.

"Yeah, I guess."

Not because you're playing hunger games. You are not an anorexic; you're sick in the head but not that sick. You just couldn't keep anything down.

"No, no, for fuck's sake, Itachi," were the first words out of Shisui's mouth. "Don't bring your cell phone charger. That is so normative."

"Fine," Itachi said, lips pinched thin, his whole body sullen under the dirty lamplight of his own porch, the plastic-coated cord still coiled like a noose around his anxious fingers. "You're the expert. What should I be packing?"

"Just ask yourself what would Kerouac put in his duffel, okay?"

Itachi gave him a blank, uncomprehending stare, and Shisui snorted. "Oh my god. I thought you took AP Literature? How can you not -"

"Shut up," Itachi said, tiredly, and shoved his charger into his bag with a glower that was probably meant to be menacing but just came across as constipated, in Shisui's expert opinion. "Let's get this over with."

And it stung, a little, in the shallower parts of Shisui's viscera, that Itachi thought of his adventures as something that had to be suffered through like a dentist appointment, but he bit his tongue and grinned. "The closest bus stop is five miles from here, so we'd better get going if we want to catch the 7AM."

It's a lot like a resonant tone, in a way. A single finger, pressing the E string to the fingerboard; the long, melancholic sweep of a well-rosined bow; and you can see the A string thrum, hear it helplessly echo on your cheap-ass violin as the thin E pinches your fingertip.

(Your violin, that you play because all good Asian-American children are supposed to know how to play a classical instrument and your parents, though a little more lax than most, are still haha-ue and chichi-ue at home - nothing so familiar as okaasan or otousan has ever blundered out of your mouth. You are a layabout, a curly-haired shame to your family, an A minus student (delinquent! truant!) but you are still, tragically, obedient.)

Because no matter how blasé Itachi may act, no matter how vigorously he may roll his eyes at Shisui's odd humors, when Shisui is thrumming with strange passions, when he's all strung up and vibrating like a wire under some mysterious bowman, Itachi is (helplessly) resonant. He is resonant to the note that plays in the celestial spheres, echoing in the aether, whenever Shisui's heartstrings are plucked.

And vice versa.

(Itachi, of course, plays three instruments perfectly: oboe, cello, viola. Such a fucking prodigy.)

" - so the conductor has to break up the fight, and the violist says 'He started it!' and so the conductor asks 'What happened?' and the violist says: 'He turned one of my tuning pegs and now he won't tell me which one!' "

It was the forty-third 'stupid violists' joke Shisui had made on the walk from the bus stop to the banks of the Charles river - a good, solid, two-hour hike down busy streets and sleepy residential neighborhoods - and Itachi was finally starting to look a little bit hassled, a little bit peaky, a little bit homicidal. And the sun was almost up, staining the glass skyline red and orange.

"Okay, stop me if you've heard this one -"

"Are you done?" Itachi asked, coolly. They loped like lanky animals in sneakers over pavement that'd be blister-hot by midday; Shisui's shoes were already scuffed to hell and back.

"How do you tell if a stage is level?" Shisui asked.

Itachi stared straight ahead, but Shisui could see the twitch of curiosity in his clenched jaw, and so he was not at all surprised when - about two minutes later, as they waited for a walk light at a busy intersection, cars roaring, a woman with a stroller shrieking into her cellphone - Itachi turned to him and muttered : "How?" (Almost too quiet to be heard against the city din - the delicious cacophony of bumper-car lives - but Shisui heard him, was waiting with bated breath.)

"There's drool coming out of both sides of the violists' -"

Shisui never got to finish the punchline to his forty-fourth violist joke, because the moment Itachi caught on, he punched Shisui in the gut.

You're an only child, so you don't really get the Sasuke thing. You never realized, before you began seeing Itachi regularly, just how un-cute little brothers are.

Sure, Itachi loves the little bitch. Patiently celebrates his birthday, patiently suffers his whining and attention-whoring, patiently encourages him to do his best in school - patient patient patient, saintly and selfless, but whenever Itachi can get away with it he slips out of the house to study in the library across town, work out where Sasuke can't follow him, cultivate his own life, make out with you. You think, after some serious navel-gazing, that you've figured it out.

Itachi loves Sasuke like he loves his parents and Konoha and the Uchiha clan: flawlessly, unconditionally, and without reserve, because he has to.

When he's with you, sure, he criticizes your fabulous dress sense, pinches your face, kicks you in the shins, and on one memorable occasion he punched you in the dick. (It was kinda your fault.) But he doesn't love you because he has to.

Itachi's feelings for you are messy, selfish, unkind; at times demanding, at times a pain in the ass, and they are so effortlessly real it takes your breath away.

So your wicked-selfish heart is reassured that you (and you alone) are the most important person in Itachi's life - number one in his affections - because even though he gives Sasuke whatever that little bastard asks for, you don't even have to ask, and that makes all the difference.

(It occurs to you that it's strange to be jealous of your lover's younger brother, but dating your cousin is weird by definition.)

The third day of dumpsters-in-alleys and sleeping in turns on park benches and getting gum stuck to their sneakers and paying for shitty fast food with quarters they mostly found on the sidewalk was the day Itachi dragged them both into the Prudential mall, into the food court, and into the adjacent handicapped bathroom, eyes a livid red.

"I need to wash up," he said, tearing his shirt off and striding to the sink like a prissy scarecrow, all messy black whippets and slightly grimy albescent skin. "Why the hell are we doing this, Shisui?"

"Why'd you agree to come?" Shisui laughed. "Come on, we've been having fun, right?"

"I don't -"

But Itachi stopped talking, bit his lower lip in concentration, continued to lather his armpits with hand soap, and Shisui knew he was actually taking stock. It really was fun, wasn't it? Just the two of them, floating through a massive river of people, cut temporarily adrift from everything but each other - walking up and down every kind of street, past tourist traps and skyscrapers and shitty parking garages, staring at maps and shooing away pigeons and Shisui'd intended to piss on the side of a parked car with some really obnoxious bumper stickers but Itachi had threatened to turn him in to the police, so there went that plan.

Even the shitty fast food was kind of nice, in a way - it tasted like the best fucking food in the world, they got so hungry.

"Oh, baby, do you miss your vanilla chai soymilk lattes with espresso?" Shisui asked, batting his eyelashes at Itachi's somber expression in the cracked bathroom mirror.

"Do you miss your cigarettes?" Itachi countered, raising an eyebrow.

"Nah, not so much anymore," Shisui said, lying through his teeth. "I quit months ago." Also a lie. "I mean, I told my mother I didn't see the big deal, you know, rather be hung for a sheep than a lamb, but you just try and reason with that battleaxe. Soon as someone says 'cancer' they just don't give a shit what else you're saying."

Itachi blanched even whiter than usual under his peeling pink sunburn. "I can't believe you can joke about it," he chided, frowning, and Shisui laughed at him again.

"I can't believe you can be so serious about it," he said, admiringly, and he didn't mind very much when Itachi wept for ten whole minutes into his narrow (narrowing) shoulder.

You once asked him, fidgeting on Mikoto's hideous carpet in front of the embarrassingly large Uchiha Itachi trophy cabinet while you waited for him to finish unlacing his Doc Martens: how the hell does he accomplish all this? And he told you, blank like a a static channel: "It's just easy when it doesn't matter to me."

It takes you a long while to sort out what he meant by that.

"So you'll throw a shit fit if I stub my toe, but stuff like international chess competitions -"

He bites your lips and that's distracting, so you forget what you were asking, but an hour later, lying under a sheet on his futon, while you're being the little spoon and he's being the big spoon and the rain is smearing the streetlights across his windowpane, and his breath is tickling the nape of your neck, he says: "You broke your toe," and you remember.

"So," you whisper, giddily, "winning trophies doesn't matter to you in the grand scheme of things, I take it." But I matter?

"I only worry about important things," he says, confirming your best suspicions, and presses a soft kiss to your neck, soothing away the ticklish sensation with his chapped lips.

It's one of your nicer memories.

"Want to walk to the Harvard campus today?" Shisui asked, playing with the wrapper to a drinking straw while Itachi sifted through his duffel bag, the two of them tucked into a remarkably fresh-smelling alley between two stark cement buildings. It was barely wide enough for Shisui to sit propped up against the wall with his legs extended - just barely. "You did accept their acceptance, right? Please tell me you did. I know your family's making you go to the business school but it's Harvard, you'd have to be an idiot -"

"I accepted," Itachi murmured, dutiful to a fault.

"Well, you'll have to be there in two weeks anyway, for freshman orientation, so how's about we troll around the ghost town, huh?"

"It's not a ghost town," Itachi told him, huffily, and Shisui grinned up at him, mouth as wide and cheerful as a demented jack-o-lantern - a sort of comical, 'oh boy, here he goes again' expression. "Harvard operates a summer school program, and Harvard Square is a bustling, vibrant urban community with -"

"So let's go! God, don't make such a production out of it."

Itachi paused, his stony demeanor saying nothing - it was all in the way he carried himself, the way his fingernails bit into his palms, Shisui noted. "In two weeks," Itachi said, very carefully, "you're being admitted for chemotherapy."

"If I make it that long," Shisui mused, pulling a box of cigarettes out of his loose (formerly skinny) jeans. "Can I borrow your lighter?"

Itachi's face melted into a mask of pure, unadulterated fury, and he smashed the carton out of Shisui's hand with a vicious kick, panting harshly. (A few feet away, a pedestrian with a golden retriever walked by, totally unaware of their private incestuous drama; Shisui would have rolled his eyes but there were more pressing matters to attend to.)

"Why so serious?" Shisui quipped, weakly, and Itachi - filthy with travel dirt, frayed at the edges, smelling of sweat and smoky lust - pinned him to the ground, knotted his hands behind his back with something thin and pinching and plastic (maybe the cell phone charger cord finally came in handy), and bit him viciously hard right over his throbbing jugular. "SHIT! Ow. Motherfucker."

"Cousinfucker," Itachi corrected, mirthlessly.

"Here? You perverted bastard," Shisui said, laughing and crying a little into the dirt. "Ow - ow - Itachi -"

"Keep your voice down, please, I don't want to get arrested," Itachi said, his soothing voice dripping like oil into Shisui's ear, and Shisui bit the inside of his cheek to keep from screaming with laughter or hysteria or both. "I can't believe you. I've already given up so much for -"

"Itachi," he breathed, picking his words and plaintive tone like a general selecting his best strategy, "my - my stomach hurts."

And just like that Itachi capitulated, pulling him up off the ground, fury forgotten, his whole being suffused with worry. He looked so contrite, so aghast with himself, that Shisui felt it was his duty to cheer the morbid bastard up a bit. "It's fine," he said, leaning into Itachi's chest. "Just pressed me into a rock, is all. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I'm not gonna smoke any more, I promise."

"Sometimes," Itachi said, with all the morbid depravity of a psychopath, running a fascinated dirty finger along Shisui's pinched cheekbone, "I want to kill you just so the cancer can't."


They got to Harvard eventually. Shisui had friction burns on his wrists.

You hear from other people that Itachi is the perfect child - sweet, gentle, intelligent, kind, well-dressed. Straight A grades, a brilliant musician, a gold-medal Olympian in the making, a flawless, self-sacrificing idol on a very, very lofty pedestal. (Specifically, your old lady won't shut up about how it's a shame, really, that you spend so much time with Itachi and none of his good traits have ever rubbed off on you.)

You think everyone's just abusing a free service. Itachi is like Atlas, like a Christ, willing and able to suffer their demands because they are too stupid to demand anything that would really stretch his patience, and you wonder why they never notice the cold, reptilian edge to his eyes when he smiles. You wonder how the hell he's got them all fooled - how the hell nobody notices his act, and why they seem to think that Itachi is an exception to the old rule: no such thing as a free lunch. You wonder if it ever occurs to them, as they take and take and take, that Itachi might be keeping score, somewhere in his labyrinthine mind. You wonder if it occurs to them that no one winds up on a pedestal that high through sheer coincidence.

You know that eventually, though he can never really be free, Itachi will choose his master: whether it's the Uchiha clan, or Konoha Inc., or Sasuke, or some third party yet to be seen, he will be busy eroding the foundation out from under the idiots who exploited him while you limp and cough your way through recovery (and if you survive that, police academy, but you're not holding your breath).

Everyone takes from Itachi, but Itachi takes only from you; you, the idiot no one else really notices, because you're a bit character in this story, with unpopular opinions and stupid hair.

You hear all the time about how Itachi is some sort of superhuman flawless martyr, and it makes you feel a 10% cocky and 110% special that you know better.

It was the last day of their little misadventure, and they were sitting in South station, almost indistinguishable from a bum who was kneeling by the side of the tracks. Itachi was probably the dirtiest he had ever been in his life. Shisui thought it looked kind of good on him.

"Hey," he said, intending to compliment Itachi's panache in the face of grime, but trailed off when the idiot simply reached over and grasped his hand. "... What the hell do you see in me?" he asked instead. "Why me?"

Itachi gave him a once-over - lingering on Shisui's polka dot denim jeans, inexplicably stained neon yellow shirt, puce jacket, faintly insecure crooked grin - and shrugged. "Maybe you were just in the right place at the right time."

That's like the opposite of consolation. Shisui nearly elbowed him in the ribs, but he continued:

"I'd never do this for anyone but you."

"I guess, coming from you, that's like a marriage proposal," Shisui retorted, his pride slightly mollified. It was a fair answer. He wouldn't have asked anyone but Itachi to come with him, either.

"...It's legal in Massachusetts," Itachi said, levelly. Shisui started to snicker at that - yeah, it'd inject some much-needed redneck into the Bay State, a little gay marriage between cousins - but Itachi's deadpan was a shade more serious than usual, and Shisui realized that, oh, god, Itachi wasn't even kidding.

"... Wow," he muttered. "And you didn't even buy me a ring."

Itachi pressed his lips to Shisui's forehead, gently twining their fingers together, ignoring the wide-eyed stare of a pigeon and the stifled, giggling whisper of two girls on the other end of the platform.

"You're important because you're mine," he said, like he'd been rolling it around in his mind for a while, and if Shisui weren't so touched by that he'd probably make gagging noises, because really. "Humans are all basically the same, but you're the only one that belongs to me."

"Possessive, much?" Shisui said, grinning - Itachi's sociopathy was cute, in an awkward sort of way.

"Yes," Itachi said, his face lined with a litany of troubles far exceeding the weight of his teenage years, and for a moment Shisui thought that Itachi looked unbearably lonely. "Shisui, no one else can have you."

And there were some pretty fucked-up overtones to that, considering the fact that their relationship was not exactly romantic or lovey-dovey or normal by any stretch of the word. They barely ever saw each other, for fuck's sake. There was also the disconcerting fact that standard American post-murder-spree interviews with friends and family always went to the tune of "You never would've thought he could do such a terrible thing, he was always so quiet, so polite", and damn, if that didn't just describe Itachi to a T.

But Shisui didn't care.

"So. I guess that means cancer can't have me either," he said, his knuckles bone-white as he gripped Itachi's hand, and the afternoon sunlight beat down on the train tracks in bursts.

"Absolutely not."

"... Shit, Itachi, your parents are going to murder you."

Itachi smiled at him, beatific, a grungy saint. "I absconded with you for a week. They were going to murder me anyway."

Well, balls, Shisui thought to himself, shaking his head, stifling an unpleasantly rough cough. He'd been so set on living out his last happy moments, building something pleasant to cherish in his memories as chemotherapy withered him into nothing.

It just wasn't playing fair for Itachi to offer him a future.

You're not quite sure if it was you who insinuated yourself into Itachi's life, or if it was the other way around.

You know how to starve, how to do without lots of things - food, parental affection, nicotine. You know how to get by, scraping out an existence just shy of inconsequential and just short of loved. You're going to be bedridden for months if you don't die outright, and Itachi really doesn't need that kind of stress, and damn it, you want to be a cop when you grow up - you want to be helpful, not a ball and chain in a sickbed. But you can't possibly be altruistic enough to break up with him, because although you were born knowing how it felt to starve, it wasn't until you met him that you learned what it felt like to have enough.

They hadn't seen each other for two months, after Itachi had walked him home and Shisui's parents had, after a truly vexatious crying jag, banned him from leaving the house unattended - please, like that could've stopped him - and it was four in the afternoon, and Shisui was getting sick of hospital food, so when the nurse left after giving him his pills he whipped out his cell phone and began to type. Remission was almost purgatorial in its boredom.

Bustin outta here 4 Chinese food, u comin?

He didn't have to wait long for a reply.


A/n: Apologies, apologies. I will now go back to working on the next chunk of BYPWYM.