Happy Halloween '10!


Four days on the road.

. . .

Itachi stood on a riverbank.

Before him, the water glimmered dizzily in the sunlight, reflecting the sky, which was beautiful, blue and sheer. Little green waves. Interiorly, he was held rigid by a feeling of ferrous, inexorable peace, plodding through his veins upstream.

There was only one thing on his mind. One word. One name.

"Sorry. I kept you waiting?"

Shisui stepped out from behind a grove of trees. He grinned at Itachi, rubbing the back of his neck.

"I don't mind. I was watching the sky."

"Interesting hobby. So, work's done. Ready to go?"

"Which road are we taking?"

"This river flows north. We can just follow it home."

Shisui's eyes scanned the water, thoughtful. Itachi intently stared at the sky.

"Been a long time gone, hasn't it?"


"Well, what're you waiting for?"

They walked.

. . .

Progress was slow because Shisui kept stalling to ponder his surroundings, a rock here, a tree there. He seemed utterly fascinated with every little thing he saw, as though encountering them for the very first time.

"What's the name of this country again?"

Itachi told him. Shisui smiled nostalgically, drew circles in the dirt with his foot.

"I always wanted to come here. I wanted –"

He stopped midsentence, turned aside and coughed into his hand. It was a strange cough: choked and sputtering. The kind of sound you'd make trying to dislodge something from your throat.

Itachi again looked up at the sky. Which was still clear. Which was still beautiful.

"It's getting dark."

"Let's stay in this area for tonight."

. . .

In the morning, Shisui's cough had slightly worsened. His voice went ragged with it, so for a very long while, Itachi made a point not to speak.

This worked out reasonably well.

As could be expected.

The wind was colder that second day, but the sky was cloudless. Something hung loosely in the air, indefinable in quality, suspended in the infinite spaces between serrated patches of awareness.

They walked.

. . .

"What's this?"

"What's what?"

Itachi reached up and traced his fingers along the stripe of reddened skin.

"This. This mark on your neck. It wasn't there yesterday."


"Been looking at my neck, Itachi?"

"I wasn't aware that was forbidden."

Shisui shook his head with amused disapproval.

"You shouldn't say things like that. Too direct. People won't like you if you say things like that."

"I don't think it matters much whether people like me or not."

"You're right. It's not so important, is it? It's not like you can take it with you."

"Your neck –"

"Geez, you're persistent. I don't know, alright? Probably an insect bite or something."


"Let's move on, we're losing daylight hours. Maybe we'll get there before the sun sets today."

They didn't get there before the sun set, but that didn't seem to matter very much either.

"Let's stay in this area for tonight."

. . .

The insect bite was still there the next day. If anything, it had gotten bigger, darker, implying perhaps that it had been perpetrated by a creature of possibly supernatural origins.

Itachi thought about voicing this opinion, but dismissed the idle thought. Perhaps he was simply tired. Shisui had coughed all night, and he had slept badly.

The sky was tedious and grey this morning. Dull. Hesitant. A sky that held its breath.

They walked.

Shisui coughed.

They walked.

Eventually, the sun slipped behind the purple mountains.

Eventually, they stopped walking.

. . .

"Let's stay in this area for tonight."

. . .

By the end of the fourth day, the coughing had turned so violent that Shisui could hardly walk. His harsh, explosive breaths devastated the still air, which tasted like a bitter fruit. Like ashes.

Itachi kept walking.

In the end, Shisui flopped down on the trunk of a fallen tree, panting.

"I think my lungs are smaller than I thought they were."

Itachi tried to imagine his own lungs contracting within his chest, throbbing arduously as sour air bubbled in and out of them. Smaller, smaller, smaller – until finally, they simply collapsed upon themselves.

"There was a cave a little further back on the trail. Let's rest there for awhile. I'll help you. Please come, quickly."

And Shisui came. Above them, leaded clouds shifted in unforgiving formations. Readying themselves.

. . .

The sun had almost fallen.

Outside: silence. A dense fog moved sluggishly along the ground.

Shisui lay on his back, gagging through shallow breaths. The sound of his efforts resonated in the enclosed space, despondently ricocheting off the cave walls.

The bruise on his neck was almost black, a solid choker of mauled skin.

Itachi lay down beside him and closed his eyes against the guileful shadows. Against the slow elapsing of silent hours leading into the night.

Breathed in and out.

Their torsos rose and fell in tandem.

Up and down.

In and out.

. . .



"I had a dream last night."

"Was I in it?"



"You told me that we weren't going to make it home –"


" – because –"


"– you were dead."


Slowly, Shisui sat up. He met Itachi's gaze, and quirked his lips sardonically.

"There you go again, saying awful things."

In the tepid light, Shisui's eyes were like heavy coals. He had stopped coughing.

. . .

A soft drizzle had settled in for the night. Inside the cave, it was pitch black. Shisui lay on his right, a solid presence stroking his hair tenderly.

"Tell me more about the dream."

His throat was suddenly freed of that fitful lump.

"You were dead. You drowned in the river."

"Glug glug glug. Dreadful way to go."

"I held you by the neck and forced your head under the water. Like this."

His hand formed a vise. He didn't need to see to know what would happen when he closed it around Shisui's neck, just as he knew that, behind the darkness, Shisui was smiling, a smile of knives.

He smoothed his hand over Itachi's, tightening it around his throat.

"In forensics, this is what we'd call a perfect match."

Itachi didn't flinch. Visibly.

"But you were saying?"

"You struggled. You were stronger than me, even with the sedative – you struggled, and I dislocated my shoulder. I had to hide it the next day during practice with Sasuke."


"There was no mark on your body when they found it. I injected chakra into your flesh – just a bit – and the blood vessels healed themselves."


"I erased all the traces. Then I planted the note, let your body drift downstream, and went home."

"And what else?"


"What else, Itachi."

"Your mother – at the funeral. She tried to jump into the grave, but your father held her back. She kept clawing her neck – it got all – all bloody."

Shisui nuzzled his neck, nipped softly at the warm skin. He shuddered.

"She – the screaming. She was saying that she – that she would –"

Improbably, Shisui sighed. He traced his fingers slowly along the edge of Itachi's jaw, lingering on the fluttering pulse under his chin, aimless.

"– that she would kill herself –"


"– but she never got a chance to, because –"


"– because I did it for her, the next day. I killed – they – I killed – I –"

Two fingers descended upon his lips, damming the babbled stream of words. A feathery touch.

"That's enough."

Shisui lifted his fingers from Itachi's lips and placed his mouth there instead. Itachi parted it with his tongue to taste the decay.

Silt and tears and swallowed regrets.

Bitter things, but he was used to the taste, and it didn't bother him.

"Let's stay in this area for tonight."

. . .

Tangled legs and swirling mist, chilled on damp, wearied skin. Fingertips pressed each to each.

Soft breaths, here and gone again.

"I would have done it too, you know."


"If they had said to me, 'Hey, Itachi's a traitor, kill him,' I'd have done it, no question."

"Would you really have?"

"Does it make you feel better to believe that?"


Deep sigh.

"I'm always going to want the best for you. Even if I don't know what that is. Only the very, very best."

Longer pause.

An impatient noise.

"What is it that you want me to say then?"

"I'd prefer if you didn't say anything."


Sounds of shuffling.

"Don't go."

"You know I can't –"

Numb fingers twined.


Sigh. Long and defeated. There were no more words, because there was nothing left to say.

. . .

His nails buried into willing flesh.

He scratched, clawed, burned and scarred. Leaving new markings.

(These will stay, won't they?)

Kissed and sucked and bit. Creating new bruises.

(Surely they won't be lost. Surely.)

He knew it. As certainly as he knew his own existence. Some things could not be lost.

(And surely this time, they have come to stay.)

A cry and a sweeping, uncontrollable wave. Bliss and panic coagulating. Falling into darkness.

Sudden emptiness, and the shadows grew pale with invading morning light.

He didn't really know, after all.


. . .

Itachi opened his eyes. It was morning. He looked around, but there was nothing to see.

There never had been.

Wearily, he got up, straightened his coat, and stepped outside into the brilliant sunlight. The air smelled crisp and new, the way air tended to smell after a rainstorm had passed. Nothing was different in the world. Nothing had changed.

"Did I keep you waiting, Itachi-san?"

Kisame stepped out from behind a grove of trees. He smiled at Itachi, swinging his heavy sword over his shoulder.

"Did you rest well?"


"No more of those dreams, then?"

"Those were not dreams."

Questioning look.

"A common side effect of using techniques that concern manipulation of the mind is that, at times, they leave behind echoes. The more powerful the jutsu, the more vivid the after-traces."

"I see."

"In my case, the echoes just happen to be – of a very particular nature. That's all."

"These 'side effects' do seem kind of troublesome. Aren't you concerned at all?"

"No, Kisame. Echoes, no matter what, are only echoes."

Kisame stared. He stared back.

Finally, an acquiescing nod.

"Let's head back down to the river. We've got a long way to go."

They walked.

The sky was sublime.

. . .

Like a good book, I can't put this day back.