A/N: This was my contribution to the LJ community bitter_nakano's phenomenal summer exchange, which ended recently after producing a boatload of fabulous Itachi/Shisui work. Be sure to check it out for the I/S needs you didn't know you had-angst, fluff, crack, AU, and anything else you can dream up!
I wrote this for arclights, who prompted me with "Shisui brings back bits and pieces from his victims' minds." I couldn't decide whether to go with crackfic or ordinary fic, so...enter crazed hybrid.
The problem first becomes apparent at a routine clan dinner.
Proceedings are barreling along admirably—there have been six grandiose conflagrations and fourteen impromptu oaths of eternal revenge—when Shisui suddenly stands up, screams, "Fuck this shit, you don't mess with me when I'm on the rag, bitches!" and unleashes about a hundred lethal and completely infuriated snake summons all over the banquet table. Seemingly oblivious of this, he then proceeds to rip off his clothing and clamber onto a chair.
Itachi is four and resorts to his usual method of dealing with Shisui: he stares at him.
A few shinobi stab tentative yakiniku skewers at him, these being the only weaponry readily available at a family cookout. This plan of assault is abandoned when he promptly bites one in half. After this, he is chased around the table multiple times, upending platters of meat and fussy-looking relatives, and eventually bolts out of the vicinity of the garden altogether. He is later discovered sulking in someone's cellar, watching a stolen black-and-white projection of My Eternal Rival's Wedding, crying profusely, and licking the topping off a daunting pile of chocobananas.
Considering the singlemindedness typical of four-year-olds, Itachi's greatest concern in this situation is the the wasted chocobananas. Hunkering down next to Shisui, he retrieves one from the stack. He looks at the opposite wall, where the projection features a suspicious-looking kunoichi wearing a battle fan and little else cavorting in the arms of a dark-haired shinobi. As he watches, the shinobi makes the mokuton seal and produces a bouquet of roses for his companion.
Itachi is a dutiful child and would eat shuriken before criticizing his cousin's taste in recreational media, but he is skeptical of this.
"Shisui," he ventures. "This looks very strange."
"Shut up," says Shisui, not taking his eyes from the film. "He's about to give her sole ownership of the village and dominion over her clan. It's fucking romantic."
"Oh," says Itachi. He huddles up against Shisui's side and eats his chocobanana. Soon Shisui starts sobbing furiously again, seemingly in reaction to a momentous on-screen breakup involving the improbable combination of giant scythes, the kyuubi, and yet another bouquet of roses.
"He left me," yells Shisui, flailing his arms. "That shit-for-brains! I'll kill him! I'll pull out that damn tongue he's so proud of and strangle him with it!"
Itachi has no idea how to respond to this. He looks at the sweet in his hand, then at his deranged cousin.
"Would you like my banana?" he asks politely.
"NO," screams Shisui, "Haven't I told you? I'm on the rag, and the banana part—gives—me—cramps-!"
He kicks the projector over and runs out of the cellar, shrieking.
In the absence of Shisui, Itachi stares at the chocobanana. Gradually he hears footsteps, and then suddenly his cousin is back in the cellar, looking disheveled and pale, but generally sane. Upon seeing Itachi, his face brightens.
"Hey!" he says. "What're you doing down here? Can I have a chocobanana? And—uh…what're you watching?"
At the hospital, they are referred to Yamanaka Inoichi, an expert on all things related to mind control and what he refers to as its less glamorous stepsister, mindbending.
"The difference," he says, patting Shisui on the head and giving him a gentle slap to bounce him off the examination table, "is that little Shisui-chan here can't actually control anyone's actions, like we Yamanaka can. All he can do is give a suggestion. He displaces some of the willpower in another person's brain by imposing his own chakra signature over whatever they'd like to do. But his brain wants to replace the chakra he loses with something, so while he's in their head, it just has him grab some of whatever's in there and bring it back with him."
Fugaku, representing clan interests, and Mikoto, representing everything else, exchange looks. Shisui himself becomes disinterested in trying to build a summoning circle out of tongue depressors and leaves the room. Itachi stays, because anything that could make his cousin lose interest in chocobananas is clearly a very pressing issue.
"How serious is this?" asks Fugaku.
"In terms of combat ability? Not serious at all. Once his sharingan activates, it'll be easy for him to navigate streams of data collected from others. In terms of personal interaction?" Inoichi chuckles and shrugs on the black coat he wears for interrogations. "As he grows older, he should be able to integrate others' personalities with his until their mannerisms wear off. Should make things interesting for all of you, especially you, little one."
Itachi feels a proper introduction is in order, so he tilts his chin up and offers, "I am Uchiha Itachi."
"Is that so? You'll look out for your cousin, won't you?"
"Yes. Shisui is my best friend. One day he gave me an earthworm that was seven inches long."
Itachi feels that this is a related fact concerning Shisui's importance and generally high quotient of amazing, and fails to understand why all the adults exchange puzzled looks. He rationalizes that they must be jealous. It's understandable. Very few people have friends who offer them seven-inch earthworms. Because Shisui is his best friend, Itachi is able to live vicariously through his many talents, such as hopping backwards on one foot and eating marbles, and even relate these grand tales to other appropriately awed children. Mindbending is nothing compared to feats like these.
"…Thank you, Inoichi-san," says Fugaku finally. "We'll make sure to support him as best as we can."
"Send him to me, and I'll help him start keeping the problem under control," says Inoichi. "And don't worry, Uchiha-san. He'll be a very talented mindbender. To develop this ability on one's own, without a clan technique as precedent—well, it's…unforeseeable. Surprising, but manageable."
"I was wondering," says Mikoto. "At our clan dinner…what in the world…"
"Ah." Inoichi's handsome face colors. "A survey of the child's mind reveals that he had previously waylaid Mitarashi Anko as she was homebound with her monthly purchase of chocobananas. Shisui-chan…made use of his skills to take possession of some of the sweets. Rest assured, it isn't the first time a mind technique has been abused in such a fashion!"
Shisui himself has no opinion on this, as his memory of most of the episode is hazy. Later that night, they sit on the pier, systematically decimating the remainder of the chocobananas and throwing bits at the ducks coasting by on the Nakano. The ducks like chocobananas as much as they do. Next to Itachi, Shisui sings tunelessly and taps out maraca beats on the old wood, and things are just as they should be; mushy banana scent, chocolate stuck in what Mikoto calls The Cavity Place, water shocking against their legs like the river is laughing. Itachi fidgets.
"Are you going to be a Yamanaka now?" he asks. The thought makes the chocolate taste suddenly heavy on his tongue, like someone's thatched his mouth with mud. He puts the banana down. Shisui absentmindedly slides his bag under it so it doesn't get dirty.
"Of course not," says Shisui. "I'm just going to learn how to get inside people's heads and still be me. I don't want to wake up watching any more girly movies."
They both sit in silence for a moment, considering the possibility of this horror.
"Are you going to go inside my head?" asks Itachi finally.
He doesn't think he would mind, and it probably wouldn't be that weird anyway, because if Shisui wants to do something, all he has to do is tell him. But Shisui reacts as if Itachi's slipped a cockroach and some ice cubes into his pants.
"No," he snaps, punctuating the exclamation with a series of staccato slaps to the planks. "Of course not! Don't you know anything?"
He doesn't know what he said that was bad, so he stares at Shisui with unblinking eyes in an expression which has, in recent years, been substituted for his crying face. Shisui immediately looks contrite and grabs one of his hands.
"Look," he says, "don't be sad, okay? Just promise me you won't let anyone get inside your head."
"Not even you?"
"Especially not—look, I'm your best friend, okay? Shinobi don't use techniques on their best friends. If they do, they're not-" His face crumples oddly. "They're not shinobi. So can you promise me?"
"Yes," says Itachi. "I can."
"Good," says Shisui. "And if you can do that, I promise I'll never use it on you."
Then Shisui lays his hands on his lap with great seriousness and proceeds to make a potentially life-changing statement.
"Now," he whispers, "I'm going to tell you a secret thing. Are you listening?"
Itachi is listening so hard he cannot expend the energy necessary to affirm it.
"Girls' brains," whispers Shisui, "…are really weird."
This nugget of wisdom grasped, Itachi gapes. They both turn as one to the Nakano and observe it, lost in contemplation of the universe and its many mysteries.
"What's the rag?" asks Itachi suddenly.
Shisui goes absolutely white.
"That," he croaks. "That…uh, you don't need to know."
"Oh," says Itachi. "Okay."
There are some unexpected things about the war, such as the fact that it's not blood they're showered with first. It's mud, raining down from holes in the roof and splattering in wet gobbets against their skin. Above them, darkness wheels in tighter and tighter circles. The thick scent of metal and decay fills the shelter-everything's dirty, they're dirty, someone's going to yell at them for getting so dirty.
"Arms up," Shisui says. "Come on, little guy. Let's get you clean." He sloughs their shirts off, sluices water from the bucket over their chests. His hands are dirty themselves, but they get a little cleaner as they trace clumsy circles over spots of grime on Itachi's shoulders. Not a single real color in an inch of his body; just greys, browns, shades Itachi's never associated with his cousin before this.
"Here, let me pour some over your head. You'll feel better."
"I don't want to."
And that always works; he bends his neck, and Shisui pours the rest of the water over his head, dabbing awkwardly at the patches of mud caught in his hair. His throat hurts, and he pokes his tongue out to catch a few drops of brown liquid as it trickles down his cheeks. Shisui slaps the back of his head lightly. "Stop that. It's dirty."
"Not you," says Shisui. "You're all clean now, and don't you feel better?"
"I want water."
"I know, I know. I'll make some more." He makes hand seals painfully, meticulously, fingers too small to wrap themselves around the unfamiliar movements. "Suiton: suiryoden!"
But only a few drops spring from his hands. Shisui lets them plink into the bucket with a look of desperation.
"Sorry—out of chakra, I guess. I don't think I have very much, just wait a few hours…"
Itachi begins to cry then, in huge cracking sobs, and he falls to the ground and dirties himself all over again. There's not one clean place to sit, that's the problem—the floor of the shelter is all sand and gravel; their blankets are crusty with sweat and vomit and the acrid underground heat; he can feel little granules of dirt rasping under his clothes every time he moves. Shisui must have made countless buckets of water since their arrival, but it's not enough; it will never be enough.
Shisui leans against the wall and pulls his shirt wide, making a sort of tent, and draws Itachi against his chest. His collarbones poke into Itachi's temples and from here Itachi can feel his ribs, every one of them, drumming against the side of his face and individually distinguishable. Cloth on flesh on bone. It hurts. He squirms around, but every part of Shisui is like this now, a map of bones coated in the useless grey dirt of his skin.
Shisui tightens his hand around Itachi's shoulder. Itachi feels a little coil of guilt turning itself over and over with the hunger in his spine; he should be grateful for Shisui, and he is—he is—but he thinks it's easier to be grateful when there's a bed to sleep in, and clean sheets, and maybe, maybe, all the water he wants, although he can no longer remember what this is like. Suddenly they lurch, and Shisui gets up. Against the pale light from above-Itachi's never figured out where it comes from-the edges of his hair are red, little strands standing up like twigs dying in a great fire.
"Don't go anywhere," he says, and then there's a flicker and he's gone.
Two hours later (please let him come back please please please I promise I'll be good please please please) the trapdoor slams open and Shisui falls against the dirt floor, two water canteens tumbling from his hands. He's shaking all over, convulsions sending the sweat arcing in droplets from his hair and his skin, but when he looks up at Itachi his mouth is a thin pressed line; he's always known when to talk and when to stay quiet. As he pushes the water canteens forward, Itachi catches a glimpse of his face. He gasps. There are two thin trails of blood winding their way down his cousin's cheeks, and his eyes are purest red.
"There was no need for that," says a voice from behind him, eerily disembodied in the shelter's long low space, "I would have given it to you anyway. Obito-kun told me he had cousins in this shelter."
Shisui is reeling and Itachi puts a hand out to steady him, and in this much time the newcomer comes out into the shelter and straightens to his full height, which is considerable. There is a glimpse of a color that has no place in the shelter—a nimbus of gold—and then suddenly Shisui's back snaps ramrod straight under Itachi's fingers, and he speaks in a voice so calm it cannot possibly be coming from his own parched throat. The words, however, are all his.
"I appreciate the help," he says, "but my cousin and I have been managing on our own."
"Oh," says the Yellow Flash. "Then you won't be needing these, either?"
"I don't," replies Shisui coolly, although his tone slips at the sight of the dilapidated bean cakes, "but if you can spare some, I know Itachi would enjoy them."
Itachi looks at Shisui, and then drops his outstretched hand. If Shisui can do without them, he can do as well.
Namikaze Minato laughs and takes a seat, crossing his legs on the floor of the shelter and making it seem, incongruously, like a picnic ground. "Well, I hope you don't mind if I start, then," he says. "I'd like to get back to my team."
They stand there for about two minutes, listening to stomachs rumble and watching pastry break apart. Itachi takes a step, then another, and then finally seats himself across from Minato and reaches out for a cake. Shisui joins them cautiously.
"You're upset with me," observes Minato. "But you weren't before using that technique of yours. Is something wrong, Shisui-kun?"
He is the first person to address Shisui as a grown boy and not a child. Itachi chews on his bean cake and the new form of address, both initially sticky, unfamiliar, but fitting perfectly under the roof of his mouth.
"How could you let that happen to Obito-san?"
Shisui's voice is still unnervingly polite, exactly like Minato's, but something in it makes them all stop. When Itachi glances up, he sees with a shock that his cousin's eyes are bright with tears.
Minato sets down his cake.
"Come here," he says. The indulgent quality bleeds out of his posture as if he's shedding invisible layers, spine straightening, empty spaces falling from between the folds in his clothing. Nothing dirty seems to cling to his skin. Every line of his body is a straight sketch, like the sumi-e paintings hanging in the clan meeting hall, and their own small forms next to this artistry are nothing but scribbles, uneasy haphazard marks scratched by someone who has no real idea what he's trying to make. But, standing straight like that, Shisui takes on the quality of the unashamed line as well. The aftermath of the technique lasts for another five or ten seconds.
Then Shisui jerks, looks bewildered for a moment, and begins to sob.
"Come here," says Minato again, and this time Shisui goes. Itachi doesn't have to make his crying face; war has painted it on permanently, like a mask made of useless skin, but Minato stretches his arm out for him as well. They lie there like that, holding the precious water canteens like dolls, and sobs are dredged up from their throats to lie glistening on Minato's vest. Itachi cries although he hasn't in years, although he doesn't know what he's crying for, the bone-shaking ache, hunger burning, Minato's voice like a sad waterfall. He wishes Shisui didn't have to be himself this time, so whatever he found inside the other man's mind didn't have to hurt.
"I need to leave soon," says Minato, "but you know what I want to tell you, Shisui-kun."
"You don't have to say it. I'll take care of him."
A wordless conversation flares between them, the shared understanding of a mind. The blue eyes are fearless. Whatever lies behind them must be like coins in a clear pool, to be scooped up by Shisui's tendriling chakra and deposited into his own mind like a cupful of undiluted strength. Itachi wishes he had some himself.
And then Shisui's hand snakes around to his and clutches it, holds it tightly enough to leave a sense of pressure that he's sure will linger for the rest of his life, and he thinks perhaps he already does.
The chuunin exam is designed to pit the best shinobi of the generation against one another, and it is therefore inevitable that Itachi finds himself in the stands on his tenth birthday, watching his opponent waft inane gestures his way across the stadium. He ignores Shisui's eleventh attempt to start a wave in as many minutes and concentrates on puzzling out the cross-stitching on his sandals. It's intricate enough to keep him occupied and pointless enough to dull out the ending tones of "—Uchiha Itachi versus Uchiha Shisui after the break," although since this sentence was, in fact, inevitable, he's been hearing it off and on in his head since he entered the testing room.
From across the arena, Shisui flutters his eyelashes in a manner bordering on obscene, an Academy trick he employed in their first year to signal use your sharingan, I want to tell you something! Itachi complies and lip-reads "EXCUSE ME, YOUR ANGST IS SHOWING."
He mouths back "charming."
Shisui princess-waves at various people in the stands, including his obsequious genin teammates, who act as if a celebrity has been sighted and cause seismic disruption of an entire section of bleachers by stomping their feet and screaming. Yamanaka Inoichi seems to be pointing proudly and yelling, "That's my boy!" which is in no way true—particularly considering all the abuse various Yamanaka have levelled at Shisui over the years for stealing their clan technique, ignoring the fact that a) this is the entire purpose of the Uchiha lineage and its delicate genetic composition and b) Shisui did not actually do this, if Inoichi's self-contradictory ravings about Natural Prodigy Behavior and Startlingly Unprecedented Innovation are anything to go by. The collective Uchiha clan, Shisui's de facto guardians, shoot cool glares at the Yamanaka contingent from behind a screen of obnoxiously coordinated white sun umbrellas, all save for Sasuke, who sticks his tongue out instead.
Shisui, in a seemingly calculated move, devalues the Uchiha brand by spotting Yamanaka Inoichi and shouting, "SENSEI!" at decibels that, even across fifty feet of stadium, are capable of twisting Itachi's semicircular canals into pretzels. A sunny little girl next to Inoichi squeals and claps her hands. Inoichi's eyes go from the girl's face to Shisui's. Versed as he is in the facial choreography of Uchiha-style matrimonial manuevers, Itachi understands where this particular train of thought is likely to lead and mouths "You have an admirer" in Shisui's direction.
Shisui's response, predictably, is to sweep one arm magnanimously over the assemblage and reply, "It's a full house."
Because this is true, Itachi ignores it and concentrates on staring at Inoichi and his daughter. His early fears that the Yamanaka would adopt Shisui have not come to fruition, but this has never allayed his that suspicion, in some ways, the mindwalkers understand Shisui better than anyone in their clan actually does. Shisui's name had been set down for Inoichi's genin team before the team actually existed—courtesy, they had later learned, of the Fourth Hokage himself. Four years, one night, and nine fiery tails waving against the sky have taught Itachi to categorically reject the memory of Namikaze Minato, but the night of Obito's death—for him, an inference drawn from facts scooped from someone else's mind—is still unflinchingly clear. His memory flips scenes past in strategic muted colors, as if cognizant of the fact that the sensory recollections are still too fragile and dangerous to touch. Butterfly bombs. Fragments waiting to catch flame.
Inoichi, of course, skilled in putting words to the mind's fluctuations, had told Shisui all of this, which was why when Itachi, seven, had still been retching in the night over residual stench from the Kyuubi attack, Shisui had come home one day and pulled out his old smile and put it on. Small and bright and holding every answer just under its unpredictable curve, as if it had never been gone in the first place.
"I think sometimes the world is ugly," he had said. "Sometimes minds are ugly too, but you have to come out of them and—"
"Still be you?" Itachi had asked.
Shisui had smiled. "That's right."
And the incredible thing was that he had done it, still bringing mannerisms and memories with him, sometimes, but retaining what he called the "taste." Itachi had thought this sounded both cannibalistic and unpleasant, but Shisui had explained that minds left a signature, as did anything else, and that you "tasted" the flavors in them with everything but your tongue. After this Itachi had understood—the taste was whatever enabled him to recognize Shisui's pair of sandals tossed over all the identical others at the meeting hall, or feel that sense of light, floating acknowledgment at the click of a door under Shisui's fingers. Like kicking off from the riverbed, letting the dirt fly; water expanding like a wide bright net under his back, a seashell-pale and reassuringly natural feeling, something that his body already understood. As intimate, and ultimately, as unique as an individual taste.
Still, like any adolescent's, Shisui's identity is in flux, and he is hardly proficient at distinguishing his own "taste" all the time. This means that the technique has its limitations—one of them being the fact that he has repeatedly been advised to never, ever use it before something important, as he will invariably bring something ridiculous back with him and embarrass himself, or more importantly, his clan.
Since the chuunin exam counts as "something important," it naturally stands to reason that Shisui will proceed to do just this. The opportunity, unexpectedly, comes in the form of a tiny girl, who tugs on Itachi's shirt and kicks him in the shin so hard that his mother, several bleachers away, actually lets out a shriek. Itachi directs his gaze somewhere around the height of his now numb knee, where a vicious-looking pixie of the Hyuuga persuasion is clocking in a few hours on her punching pole drills.
Seeing that she has his attention, the apparition shrieks, "Uchiha Itachi, the Hyuuga clan wishes you good luck on your attempt at the chuunin exam, as is our custom! I, Hyuuga Hanabi, have been sent to give you this!"
She slaps a box of ceremonial sweets on the floor at his feet, bobs her head, and vanishes, taking one of the little rice cakes with her. Itachi stares after her in bemusement. He notes that the Hyuuga clan head, from his vantage point high in the stands, appears red with suppressed anger. He is not surprised. Uchiha children are at least taught not to emphasize the customizable bits in the formulaic clan greeting.
From his place on the opposite podium, Shisui is laughing so hard at Itachi's misfortune that he fails to notice the little girl tugging on his own shirt until he actively knocks her over. Itachi glares at him, and he finally notices, exclaims in consternation, and kneels to help up the mortified Hyuuga heiress. Seeing her face, he immediately smooths on his most charming smile. He allows her to stammer through the same rote greeting as her sister, and then, in what he probably thinks is appropriate behavior, ruffles her hair and kisses her on the cheek.
Hyuuga Hinata turns the color of someone's spleen.
Sharingan spinning madly, Itachi squints at Shisui's mouth, which is rapidly forming shapes like, "H-hey, I'm sorry!" and "Now come on, don't faint—you don't want to embarrass your daddy in front of all these people, do y—okay, that was the wrong thing to say—oh my god, please don't cry! All right, you know what—"
And then, quite abruptly, Hinata stops swaying from side to side, turns, and toddles calmly off to the Hyuuga seats.
In the ensuing silence on Shisui's end of the stadium, Yamanaka Inoichi can be distinctly heard to say, "Oh, shit—no, no, darling, that's one of daddy's special occasion words."
Itachi has no time to contemplate the ramifications of this, because the proctor calls, "Uchiha Itachi versus Uchiha Shisui" and he is almost booted out of his post by the wall of sound that blindsides him from the spectator side. Through the cheers, he catches things like "match of the century!" and "prodigious pair," all of which die out abruptly when people catch sight of Shisui, inching down the stairs in a terrified manner and biting his nails.
The five minutes Itachi spends waiting in the middle of the arena for Shisui to complete this procedure are some of the most agonizing he has ever experienced. The proctor, a skeptical-looking Yuuhi Kurenai, takes one look at Shisui and performs a genjutsu check.
This proving unfruitful, she begins, "Itachi-kun, you know tampering before the match, even with the sharingan, is—"
"I did not influence Shisui," says Itachi. "His technique has a backlash that should wear off momentarily."
"I d-don't want to p-postpone the m-match," breaks in Shisui, and Itachi can barely control his dismay. It's Shisui speaking, he can tell by the focus of the eyes and the way he navigates within the present moment—so different from post-Mitarashi Anko and the chocobanana incident—but he's doing so in a breathy, almost inaudible voice, all while nervously tying his gauntlets into about a hundred knots. He is, it appears, learning to retain his taste, but he often talks about how mannerisms and memories are difficult to fend off, and it appears that this time he has spectacularly failed at this. As if to prove this, he takes one look at Itachi, whimpers, and trips over his own sandals.
"This is ridiculous," says Kurenai. "Itachi-kun, tell your cousin that he'll need to wait a few minutes at least."
"I s-said I don't w-want to postpone it!" cries Shisui. "I'm n-not going to f-fight!"
There is a sordid thunk from the Uchiha stands. Itachi doesn't turn around. Whoever has fainted will shortly be revived with smelling salts that Mikoto carries with her for this express purpose.
Kurenai ignores this and continues speaking, and Shisui, swaying and pale but still gamely speaking, channels chakra to his throat and yells, with every fiber of the individual Shisui glittering under Hinata's skin, "I'm n-not g-going to f-fight!"
"Excuse me?" says Kurenai.
Shisui looks around for Hinata, who is sitting in the stands with a calm ease and a posture that is clearly not her own, oblivious to the disturbing goings-on below her.
"S-she d-doesn't g-get it," he says. "Why I h-have to f-fight my c-cousin."
"So?" asks Kurenai. "She's a child, and—"
"W-well, I don't g-get—" A swallow, a jolt, and Itachi recognizes Shisui coming to. He unclenches his hands, which he didn't realize were sweating so profusely. His cousin's shoulders straighten, Hinata's bow, and suddenly Shisui's voice dips back into the lower octaves, and all is right with the world.
"Wonderful," says Kurenai, visibly relieved. "Now, if you'll take your place, Shisui-kun, we can begin this match—"
"Hey," says Shisui. "No disrespect intended, but didn't you hear me? I don't get it either. I'm not fighting him."
Without looking at Kurenai at all, he pulls off his headband and throws it in the dirt at Itachi's feet, and the entire stadium is awash with murmurs at this scandal—the universal gesture for forfeit, clearly understood even by those who can't hear what he's saying.
"We really don't have time for this," begins Kurenai, "this is a violation of the chuunin trust—"
"Silence," says someone else, and she stops talking. As anyone would do, really, if the Hokage were to suddenly interrupt a conversation. Heads snap towards the high tower seat where the Sandaime sits, stonily surveying the proceedings.
Shisui, for his part, waves. Itachi reflects that his cousin is hardly less embarassing in his own skin than in anyone else's.
"You understand a forfeit, right, Sandaime-sama?" calls Shisui. "Or do I need to break out the white flag?"
"Shisui-kun," says Sarutobi. "Is this a prank of some sort?"
"It might have been," replies Shisui, "but today, Hyuuga Hinata was wondering why I had to fight this match—and you know, I really don't have an answer. And I hate when I don't have answers. It's not something I feel very often."
A brilliant smile, a frission of laughter in the crowd—he has them. As he talks, his hands dance, shuttles weaving together the magic threads of his voice. No one can resist Shisui once he breaks out that smooth, unhurried familiarity, a technique he hones just as finely as his ninjutsu skills. Itachi listens, and below his feet, Shisui lays out green fields with his words.
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is, that's my cousin." Shisui points at Itachi, and throws him a flipped-coin sort of smile, a copper-bright flash that's just for him. Itachi bites his lip so he doesn't smile back. "He's my best friend. We go out to the river together, and stuff. He's got this, this gymnastic thing he does with eight kunai, that he probably would've done in this fight? Yeah, I taught him that. He used to be able to do two and then he'd trip. Between you and me, he was a chubby kid."
More laughter. Itachi stares fixedly into the Uchiha clan block at random; perhaps if they all simultaneously cast confounding genjutsu on one another, they'll forget this incident ever occurred and their standing can be redeemed in their own eyes, which, after all, are more important than anyone else's.
Shisui, appallingly, is continuing to regale the spectators and the Hokage with some supposedly heartwarming tale of the time they put chili powder in Uchiha Obito's goggles, which was an entertaining if ill-fated incident culminating in both of them being tickled for half an hour straight, which was Obito's idea of discipline. Shisui continues to draw this story out unnecessarily and then, shockingly, returns to the subject at hand.
"—and, that's all well and good, but then let's say we have this fight, and I kick Itachi's ass in front of two thousand people. That's a big deal. Probably the biggest deal, since you all gossip about these chuunin fights for years. When I turn eighteen, I'll give you something better to talk about, okay?"
This earns its share of laughter as well. Itachi wants to snipe him, which is the single Academy subject in which he excelled over Shisui.
"And then," continues Shisui, "Fugaku-san would see Itachi every night at the dinner table and say, well, Shisui-kun put in four hours today, how many did you do? And Mikoto-san would say, eat up, don't you want to be strong like Shisui-kun, and then—and then eventually, someone would get mad, and say something they didn't mean, but it would probably sound a lot like you'll never be quite the shinobi Shisui-kun is. And then," he goes on ruthlessly, all Shisui now, poker-hot coals hidden under soft ashes, "we wouldn't go out to the river anymore, would we?"
No one is laughing at this. The Uchiha clan is stonefaced, and Itachi doesn't look at the Hyuuga at all. Shisui, ignoring the silence, kneels and scoops up his headband. He doesn't face the section reserved for the old clans, but he doesn't need to.
"I would never have had the guts to say all that," he says, "if I hadn't known that you said things like that to little girls, and that they have to take it because this entire village lets that slide under the rug. Really something to be proud of. If that's what it means to be a Konoha shinobi, I'm not interested."
Then, in a feat of bravery paralleling any Itachi has seen during the exam, he bows to the Hokage, stuffs his hands in his pockets, and walks serenely out of the stadium. Itachi stands there as if he has been clubbed over the head for several seconds, and these seconds last for so long that it takes him double the time it should to kick up his own dust cloud with his sandals and run the hell after Shisui like Hyuuga hitmen are on his tail. They walk out of the stadium and down along the river and all the way down to the entertainment district, and then they duck into a lunch stand and order the celebratory buffet they should have had after the fight, and midway through the meal Shisui catches Itachi's eye and laughs. Laughter perforates its way down his body and falls in sheets, and then flurries of white cheery confetti seem to fly around them as Itachi breaks down as well, laughing helplessly at the fact that he will never, ever be forced to fight his best friend again.
The thought falls around his shoulders with a weight as reassuring as that of the chuunin vest he will, one week later, receive with high honors from the Hokage himself.
Uchiha come of age at fourteen, and so on his September birthday, Shisui is presented with a police emblem, a handbook of rules to be memorized and set afire at the earliest opportunity, and a horde of slavering admirers, mostly female, all of whom run their fingers through his hair more than is strictly logical and insist, for some reason known only to them, that he has freckles. At first Shisui, a wartime child at heart, stiffens around these people, but after A Few Drinks he begins to understand their jokes and bizarre rituals, join in, and, as he always does, excel above and beyond anyone else. It's at this point that Itachi actually realizes they have peers in their clan, and the feeling is unwelcome, particularly when Shisui waves to his new friends as they enter or leave meetings, and once, when he crosses over to them and begins to tell a story, hands and eyes dancing, and leaves Itachi standing faintly bewildered next to the two seats in the back they have occupied since they were six and four.
"They want my body," is what Shisui has to say about this, sharingan eyes spinning over the rule book in rapid-fire memorization. "Ask me the third interrogation clause again?" He looks up to find Itachi staring at him. "What? I'm kind of hot, okay? Just because you—"
"The third interrogation clause," says Itachi quickly, and Shisui smiles wryly at him before perfectly reciting "standard-issue handcuffs are never to be taken or interpreted as an instrument of sexual invitation."
Bizarrely, he reacts to this stint in the limelight by withdrawing from it almost entirely. Itachi consistently finds him in a particular grove behind the south training grounds, hands folded in his lap, eyes closed.
"Senjutsu training?" he asks.
Shisui opens his eyes, startled, and relaxes visibly when he notices Itachi.
"Not at all," he says. "Just meditation. Want to join me?"
He explains later, as they slide a pitcher of juice back and forth over their two-seat table, that his mindbending is weakest when he doesn't meditate.
"When a lot of people want to be around you, it's easy to lose your own taste," he says, reaching out to snag Itachi's sugar cube. His own sits next to his plate, untouched. "Too many other things get mixed up in your head, and sometimes you can't pull out your own thoughts anymore. You get complacent, see, and you stop seeing why it's so wrong to let others take up residence in your head in the first place."
"One would think that was obvious."
Shisui raises an eyebrow. "You didn't always think so."
Itachi glares at him. By unspoken agreement, Shisui no longer talks about what a syncophant he was as a child, and Itachi no longer talks about the time Shisui mistakenly used his technique on Jiraiya and, instead of getting thrown out, managed to charm his way into the inner sanctum of the female bathhouses before coming to and fainting of nine-year-old trauma. Or the cross-dressing missing-nin Shisui had taken into custody outside the Uchiha compound one day, immediately afterwards sauntering into Mikoto's drawing room and asking her for platform geta and fishnets in front of her entire sewing circle.
"It's a matter," Shisui is saying, "of independence. The ability to dissociate yourself from others' thoughts. It's not just something mindwalkers do."
No one they know talks like this. Itachi doesn't understand where Shisui learnt it. He wonders if he picked it up in someone else's imagination, a stray idea tossed casually aside after consideration, planted anew in Shisui's mind, which, as he knows, is fertile enough to give life to seeds discarded, feelings forgotten. They pay for their snack and leave, setting out along the back road that takes them from Konoha's main thoroughfare to the compound. It's a long walk, but one all Uchiha children are accustomed to making.
"What does it feel like?" he asks.
Shisui says, "Like using the shunshin to stand still."
As they cross the boundary of the thoroughfare and move into the back lanes, he tells Itachi about the things he finds. Memories, discarded like used garments, the twin sentiments of love and hate, within the shinobi mind too closely tangled to tell apart at times—the wash of nostalgia like curtains of blue-grey silk, and regrets, strewn over the mindscape in broken-glass odes to what might have been. As he places his burdens down, he takes these back with him. He describes the mind of a daimyo's daughter, a place so swathed in silk and illusion he had barely found footing, and the mind of someone else, a starving Kiri boy, bare and dark, with stray shafts of light stacked atop one another like the bones of a ribcage.
"And while you're there," he says, "you feel them as intimately as if they're your feelings, but when you leave, it's all—"
He moves his hand aimlessly, describing a slow arc that encompasses the silky summer weeds, the low sky, the homeward-wending road.
"It's all dust," he says. "It's like tea made with dried leaves; you get just enough to know that once there was something there. You move through their mind so quickly it's like flying—and you have to, to soak up all their wants and worries and ideas in five seconds, when it's taken them a whole lifetime—but when you come back, you haven't moved at all. You've stood still, and all you have is that—that memory of a taste."
He moistens his mouth, as if even while speaking he can feel it. "But even when you come back, you know that place where you went was real. Maybe more real than anything you can feel here."
The wistfulness in his voice sets the words afloat. Itachi feels a sudden, crippling surge of jealousy that disorients him so much he actually stops, and when Shisui turns, heady orange halo from the sun spangling his hair, he is standing there still, a study in halted movements, as if Shisui has stolen the action from his own consciousness.
"This place is real," he says.
"Well, yeah—I didn't mean—"
"What do you want from others that you cannot find by yourself?" says Itachi. "It seems to me a contradiction of your view on independence."
He doesn't realize how the sentence sounds, but he's aware that what he says is only half of what he means, and what he means has something to do with the dark heads bowed around Shisui's all the time now, the sound of Shisui's faintly surprised Hey! across a room only to turn and see that he is calling to someone else. Itachi surprises himself with his pettiness, and he knows it devalues what he has said.
Shisui is very quiet. Then he doubles back. The collar of his coat turned up, he looks almost forbidding, the planes of his face shaded starkly with shadows of cloth. His hand has straightened, grown graceful with the years, but it's the same hand that clasped Itachi's own on the Nakano bank, making a promise, the same hand that held him back as the Yondaime left the wartime ground. Itachi follows its movements as if they're sparring—down his cheek, over the collar of his shirt—so that when the kiss comes he barely notices it, so preoccupied is he with the light electric beats of those fingers. But then it's all closed eyes, infinitely careful navigation, like an Academy cartography drill, even though Shisui has always known his rocks and ridges better than he ever has himself. He thinks of natural things; the movement of light across the daytime landscape. An earnest touch, a sweetness that shakes him to his bones, his body a set of chimes taking to the wild wind.
—using the shunshin to stand still—
His hands come up to touch the back of Shisui's neck, stippled with laughing afterthoughts of curly hair, but just as he does this Shisui pushes him back, gives him a look of startled dismay, and flickers out of sight entirely.
Over the next several weeks, Itachi has various encounters with him, each breaching various new heights of stupidity. Shisui seems to lose his head at the sight of him in the marketplace and attempts to camoflauge himself among an assortment of freestanding squash. He leaves a note with Mikoto that consists of nothing but crossed out Itachi's. On an occasion where Itachi actually manages to corner him, he completely hyperventilates and treats the entire town square to a shrieked diatribe on regulation police undergarments.
Itachi takes the time to train Sasuke, who is so pleased at his newfound training partner that he hopes aloud that Shisui will never play with Itachi again, causing Fugaku to glare at him and Mikoto to cryptically insinuate something about how Shisui should be around to play again soon. And she is correct, for shortly after this pronouncement, Shisui turns up at his door, looking frazzled, sporting a truly spectacular black eye, and grinning the grin of the terminally insane.
"Uchiha Itachi!" he booms, ignoring the stares from down the block. Itachi immediately grabs his forearms and shepherds him out the door. They manage to reach the Nakano pier before Shisui flickers around maniacally and shoves Itachi down on the dock.
"Sit there!" he yells. "I, Uchiha Shisui, have brought you here to confess!"
He thrusts his hip out and rakes his hand around in his curls as if searching for something.
"…All right. What do you wish to confess?"
"Not to confess," says Shisui importantly. "To confess. Go ahead."
"Very good!" shouts Shisui. "You are as clever as your name implies, I see!"
Itachi ignores this. "Whom did you just face?"
"That is of no matter! I simply sought out a man with greater bravery than I, who faces no impediment in exposing the flower of his heart as I, sadly, have come to realize is my wont!"
Puzzling through this labyrinthine sentence produces as much garbled nonsense as refraining from doing so. Itachi eyes Shisui with guarded skepticism.
"Shisui," he says carefully, "tell me the name of the person that you—"
"Silence your budding words! Please allow my tender feelings to bloom for your edification!"
Itachi's stomach suddenly seems to invert itself as he realizes there is only one man in Konoha who speaks in such suspiciously euphemistic floral metaphor.
"Shisui, did you seek out Gai-san specifically to—"
"Of course!" cries Shisui. "We Uchiha are not often adept at taking what we want, my little blossom, but I wish to pluck your slender stem from the—"
He stops, turns scarlet, and tries again.
"What I mean is, the tender pink bud of your youth is—wow, never mind-"
By this point, Itachi has kunai out. Shisui is pacing wildly and executing strange balletic leaps every now and then, as if this helps him gather his thoughts. It seems to be succeeding, as suddenly he whirls, plants his feet two shoulder lengths apart in the universally understood Stance of Pure Manhood, and roars, "Uchiha Itachi, I really want to kiss you again! If my youthful desire and your youthful desire are congruent, then we should…join and make a…similar triangle…of youthful—"
His voice trails off, and much to Itachi's relief, he makes the familiar full-body shudder and fixes his gaze straight. Then, in the quickest chromatic about-face Itachi has ever seen, he proceeds to go a nasty shade of eggshell.
"Oh god," he moans. "I knew that was a bad idea. I knew it. Can you just sort of…forget I said anything?"
"You did this on purpose?"
"Don't remind me!"
Shisui begins to flicker around dementedly, a crazed set of eyes or wildly wringing hands flashing in and out of Itachi's vision every now and then, this form of pacing very much his own. There is an elemental thrill at the thought that, out of all the men and women in the clan, Itachi is the only one who has ever seen him like this. It's rare that he allows himself to become so flustered.
"I thought about trying Hatake Kakashi," Shisui wails as he shunshins off the pier, splashes around on the surface of the water, then zaps off to the opposite end of the dock. "Then I realized there's a reason that book's called Icha Icha failure, or whatever the hll—and then I thought about Inoichi-sensei, but then I would've brought you flowers! Oh god, NO!"
Itachi slides discreet eyes at the cheery cellophane-wrapped parcel lying next to Shisui's satchel, labelled Yamanaka Florists and decorated all over with smiling blond cherubs, and decides to say absolutely nothing.
"I just needed some courage," mutters Shisui, and this is the most shocking thing he's said yet. Shisui is the bravest person Itachi knows, and he says so.
"Whatever," is Shisui's reply. "You know, it's—it's easy to be brave rummaging through people's minds, or whatever, but it's fucking difficult to go diving in your own and bring back what you find in there, Itachi."
"And what was it that you found?"
"That I liked it better when it was just us," says Shisui immediately, apparently fortifying himself through sheer willpower. "And it was hard to say, because—"
He doesn't need to say the rest. The years behind them both push them together and stand between them like iron weights, the debts collected like clean kunai or thoughtlessly saved lives during Academy days, the knowledge of war, like the fact of the same blood in their veins. Years like these, Itachi has learned, are the greatest burdens of all, for Shisui is the only one who can possibly know what they have been to him; they have shared them like others share nights, and now the years as they grow into adulthood are like old songs that no longer fall easily to their lips. Shisui can't say this, of course, and Itachi never will, but the fact of those years is there between them. The ever-present clock, measuring their time together against the time they spend apart these days, and the longing stretched between them lute-string tight and waiting for a touch.
And Shisui takes control of it. The sunlight slides off his skin and goes multifaceted in the river water, so bright that Itachi has to shade his own eyes. Shisui closes the space between them with careful, thoughtlessly protective steps, as he did when they were children, and leans down, hands smoothing past Itachi's temples and scooping the hair back. Leaving his face exposed, secrets carved into his skin by the wheeling sunlight.
"Do I have to make the first move all the time?" he asks, mouth twisting. "You know, you're not exactly an easy date."
"I am not a date," says Itachi.
"You're right," says Shisui, half-wonderingly. "It was always like this, wasn't it?"
And then, as if afraid to lose the taste of courage, he bends in quickly and does what Itachi has, unthinkingly, wanted him to do since he did it last. His teeth swipe across Itachi's bottom lip, and his mouth opens, afire with strange pressure. There are a few dizzy moments of scrambling, of finding the center of gravity for two instead of one, and then the entire blue sky expands under his skin, a rush of oxygen filling him under the surface as Shisui whispers that forgotten, wordless song into his lips.
"It was always like this, answers Itachi when they come apart, and then Shisui laughs, a sound he can feel thudding against his own heartbeat, and the years since childhood tremble, spread wings, and disappear.
For a while, Shisui shows up at clan meetings wearing the black coat that serves as the uniform of Konoha's Intelligence department. He earns the coat one week after Itachi earns his ANBU tattoo, and so it is a stroke of sheer luck that Itachi is appointed the spy instead of Shisui—which, as Madara points out, would have been catastrophic.
"Shisui would have made the same decision I have," says Itachi immediately, but Madara waves this away like a mosquito, as he does with all Itachi's opinions. Itachi doesn't get angry. To become angry is to allow someone space inside one's mind, and he made a promise that he would never allow this to happen. And so he keeps his face blank as Madara speaks of murder, and in the back of his mind Shisui's six-year-old face says promise, promise over and over until if he opens his mouth, all that will emerge is the tail end of the words he said in return.
"If you cannot see what has happened to your cousin, I will not waste my time opening your eyes," says Madara. Itach acknowledges this only by turning to the side and continuing the task he has been set: a mental map of the compound, including escape routes and emergency shelters.
Of course, one does not live to make trivialities of the world by ignoring what is there, and so Madara is correct.
Two days after his appointment to Intelligence, Shisui had been brought back to the compound by Morino Ibiki, nearly comatose, with a thin trail of blood trickling down the side of his mouth. His wrist had been neatly snapped. Yamanaka Inoichi had apologized to Fugaku in tears. Itachi had been sent out with Sasuke, but he had doubled back nonetheless to listen.
"We thought he could take it," Inoichi explained. "It was a criminal from Kumo—a psychopath, it wasn't a normal mind, we had no way of knowing—"
"We had to restrain him," said Ibiki. "He attacked one of our agents. It's an ugly thing, this ability of his. I believe we should reconsider this appointment, Fugaku-san."
"You should have thought of that before inviting him to join your team," Fugaku had snapped. "But let him go, if you wish. He will always have a place in the police force. We take care of our men."
When he woke up, the first thing Shisui had said was, "Let me go back there."
"We will not," Itachi had told him. "You did not see yourself. It was—"
"I have to kill him," said Shisui stonily, tossing his blankets aside. "You don't understand. It's not—his mind was ugly. Rotten. People like that shouldn't be allowed to live."
"Listen to yourself. Who should decide who lives and who doesn't?"
"We do. We're law enforcement, in case you haven't noticed. We are the law."
"The law is not a person, Shisui, or a group of people. You should know that."
"Hey, Itachi? Do me a favor, and shut the fuck up."
It had been the first time he had ever spoken to him like that, and Itachi had dropped the corner of the blanket, backed out of the room, and stood against the rice paper door, too stunned to
breathe. The edges of his chest were alight with a tingling, burning sensation that made him brush his hand against them to see if there was blood. His heart had pumped up a maelstrom of angry liquid into his throat.
Since then there had been other arguments, talk of things like intra-clan factions and careful avoidance of questions that actually needed answering. Mostly whys. Inarticulate, in the nature of the physical fact of revulsion, as the mind turns back from a sight that will destroy it, and simultaneously cries out as to why such a sight should exist.
Itachi says nothing to Shisui. The Shisui who steeples fingertips at clan meetings, tosses down edicts with cold slices of knowledge, is nothing like the Shisui who used to sit in the back of
the room, running his thumb over each of Itachi's knuckles until his mouth had gone wet at the intimacy implicit in the gesture. Whatever Shisui found in the mind of the criminal has left its mark in stranger, more subtle ways than Itachi knows how to measure. The arguments he marshals like shogi pieces under his fingertips are bitter and brittle.
For Shisui is lost in the place more real than reality. The path grows dark with weeds and water until reflections themselves are lost; the only person who now retains the taste of Shisui's mind is Itachi himself.
He has known for weeks that in the game he has set, his last piece is a gamble. Still, Shisui has always taken risks—strolling away from an exam, running into the mine-ridden aboveground of war to fetch him water—and if there is a last risk to be taken, between them, surely he must be the one to take it, even now, when they find themselves reaching fingers to one another across the line that divides the clan from the universe.
"It will be settled tonight?" asks Madara.
"Yes," says Itachi.
"Here. The Nakano."
"Do you require assistance?"
"Who're you talking to?"
Itachi does't turn around. Shisui is punctual to a fault, and looks up at Madara's genjutsu-concealed form through heavy-lidded sharingan eyes. Then the tomoe in his pupils begin to spin. Madara looks at him, amused, then turns and walks away, his movements so light he appears nearly unaffected by the technique. As if he has allowed himself to be ensnared. As if he knows that, not five seconds later, Shisui's eyes will snap wide, and he will fall to the ground and begin to shake, full of the terrible realization of the mind he has touched.
And then, Shisui gets up, not quite himself.
His skin is alight with a malevolent calmness that is not his, eyes full of cold fire that sloughs off Itachi's skin with every glance, and Itachi knows that the time has come.
"Broken," says his friend. "This is a broken mind." The older speech patterns sound strange in his mouth. "Who is he?"
"My teacher," says Itachi.
Shisui smiles. It's the wrong smile; Madara's smile.
"He's taught you well," he says. "Mangekyou sharingan. Is this what you brought me here for?"
The moment is slipping past like endless silver bubbles rising towards the surface. Itachi reaches behind him, draws his tanto.
"If you have brought him back with you," he says, "you already know."
The window of time lasts for less than two seconds. Itachi straightens the tanto and charges. Shisui stands there until the last second; then flickers away. Itachi whirls and lets the blade catch enough to create a shower of blood, a flesh wound that makes his ribs nearly liquid with nausea. Shisui looks at the wound, and then his eyes narrow.
"How fascinating," he says. "You're serious about this."
"I am," says Itachi, counting madly. There is a second left for Madara to stay in Shisui's skin. Then half a second. Then, just as his friend jerks violently with the motion of coming to his own senses, Itachi drops the tanto, slips his thumbs under Shisui's convulsing neck, and tackles him over the pier into the water. They flounder for a moment. Shisui jerks in the aftermath of the technique, and then his eyes snap into full awareness. He is himself, shocked, open-mouthed, ablaze with the paper-edge anger Itachi has cherished in him for the last fourteen years. And in any context, this look is beautiful: the look as he settles back into his own mind, as he learns again the grain of his own skin, as he looks at Itachi as if to say, you know, it's good to be back again. They lock eyes for a moment, and then Itachi pushes him under.
Shisui's anguish is so bright beneath his fingers he thinks he can feel it burning away his skin.
"I told you," he screams, bubbles on his mouth. Itachi forces himself to read his lips. "I told you not to let anyone get inside your head, and you—"
Don't you know? You were always there, thinks Itachi, and tightens his grip. Face blank, eyes steady, heart breaking. I broke my promise. Now break yours.
He will remember for the rest of his life how perfectly he has planned the deception: Shisui's anger and the residual poison of Madara's mind, which invalidates a childhood promise as easily as a fire snaps the twigs in its wake.
For the first time in their lives, Shisui looks straight into Itachi's eyes and uses the technique, two feet from the place where he held his hand and promised this instance away. And Itachi releases him, closes his eyes, and lets himself go under. The promise breaks; some innocence he never recalled keeping loosens in his blood, swims for a moment in his veins, and is lost.
His first thought is that for the victim, it's not at all like using the shunshin to stand still. It's like running without one's body, stranger and truer than a dream, but there is no beating heart or feverish skin to give testament to the fact of love, no color, no sight, no sound,
Just a taste, and that is enough.
This is the only thing he has left to bring Shisui back, and he feeds it into Shisui's intruding awareness like a silken rope into an abyss; layers upon layers of meaning, of memory, and of unashamed openness. Shisui falls into his mind, shattering broken-glass prisms of sensation, pulling them both deeper, dredging up things Itachi's mind remembers, even when he doesn't. There are old missions, sunlight flares, Shisui's hand under his, guiding it into place over Sasuke's newborn head, Shisui's voice singing an off-key victory song to chase off the last wartime ghosts. Shisui in the garden, kicking at the new grass with sandals off. So much of the spring contained in his movements that the green grows dull around him, a spongy energy in his bones that he seems to have stolen from the clouds themselves.
Shisui's mouth murmuring recited formulas at the Academy. Shisui saluting extravagantly at the Hokage, prompting a string of scandalized murmurs from the guard and a booming laugh from
the Hokage himself. Chocobananas and a movie projector. A chuunin vest. A water canteen. A promise.
He comes to suddenly, with his mouth full of water and Shisui's arms around him and Shisui's tears on his cheeks and Shisui's touch still clear in his mind, the very shadow of a memory.
"That's not me," Shisui is saying. "What's in your head, that's not me."
"That is you," says Itachi. "Not what you—"
"What I have been since that interrogation?" Shisui taps his temple. "You do not have to tell me. I have you with me for a few seconds yet."
"I thought if you got your taste back, you would stop acting as you have been."
"You needed to remember what you are," says Itachi simply. "I have never forgotten."
Shisui's face is composed and almost completely blank, save for the tears coursing down his cheeks. Itachi can tell, even though they're both drenched.
"You're crying," he observes.
"It is simply the effect of the water," says Shisui, and then smiles. "It is enjoyable to talk like you. I might make a habit of it."
"Please don't," says Itachi, and Shisui shudders and shakes off the last vestiges of his mind. That Shisui look breaks across his face, and before Itachi can fully appreciate it, Shisui bends, tips Itachi's head back, and smooths away the clinging water droplets before pressing a kiss to his mouth.
"Now what?" he says. "Now that I know—everything, or whatever."
"I did not have anything in mind."
Shisui groans. "Is this the kind of situation where you're convinced I can mindbend everyone in the clan into—" He breaks off, staring.
"Don't tell me," he mutters, half-laughing, and Itachi blinks. "I don't even want to think about the backlash I'd get slapped in the face with, okay? The only person in the clan I could handle right now is probably Sasuke, and that's because he has the attention span of a-"
They're both silent for a while. Shisui is running absentminded healing chakra over his left shoulder. In the green glow, he looks steady, wide-eyed, idealistic, as he has always been.
"Itachi," says Shisui finally. "I'm only one person, and I can't bend all those minds. You probably know that."
Itachi's stomach sinks, but then he realizes that Shisui is smiling.
"But," he continues, "If I call in some help, I think we can set something up. Inoichi-sensei owes me a favor anyway, and letting me keep the black trench isn't going to do it. They've got a lot of
relatives, those Yamanaka. It'll be a trip."
A huge sense of exhaustion suddenly plummets around Itachi, humid air, leaden bones. He tips his head back. Sasuke, Shisui, the clan, safety, safety, safety, a feeling he hasn't had for years.
"We can fix it," says Shisui. "It's not too late. For now, get some rest."
And he can, for he has brought Shisui back, unbound by anyone's mind but his own, and this has always been enough to give birth to miracles. Shisui bends again, and under his mouth, there is no clan, for that moment; there is no imminent war; there are no loyalties.
Just a taste, and that is enough.