A/N: This was meant to be my Halloween story, but I'm a little late. Sorry! Hope it still works.
Disclaimer: The concept of Shisui's jutsu messing with his mind is attributed to Quillslinger's completely amazing fic The Burning of Paper Instead of Children, and I haven't been able to get it out of my head since.
Long ago, not long enough to be forgotten, Shisui's sister had called him home for supper over a field full of wishes.
"Well, that's not really what they are," she'd said, but the image had stuck. Dandelion seeds rising on a warm updraft, the air tasting of rice-scented steam from hundreds of Konoha houses. Late summer tickling his cheeks like so many birds' wings flying south. Scores of dandelions twirling gyroscopically, losing feathered heads to the wind in every direction, and she'd told him that if he blew them away he could wish upon them the way others wished on stars.
"There are a lot more dandelion seeds than stars," he'd said, pragmatic and fully ripened with six-year-old wisdom. "Don't you think that's kind of a cheap way to do it?"
"Well, people have a lot of wishes," she'd said. "Maybe this way it's more fair. So all those wishes get a chance."
He hadn't known enough then to realize that the dandelions were in the process of dying. The image had a patina of romanticism that held his attention: the greying field with its spiderweb of rising dandelion seeds, insubstantially tickling, rising higher with the updrafts and borne away, somehow finding forgotten places to strike down roots.
At nine years old Shisui won an oratory medal in a competition against the civilian Academy speaking on the subject of "war." It wasn't much of a competition. When he drew the folded paper out of the hat, he had felt sorry for his opponent, with her uneven braids and talcum powder showing just under her the armpits of her best dress. He let her stutter through her war is wrong, it isn't right to kill people because everyone should have a chance at living how they want to live. He reasoned benevolently that she couldn't have known and then showed her in modulated polysyllabic snapshots he had saved up for just an occasion like this: holding the bile inside your mouth because you weren't allowed to take off the gas mask, the way bones had liquid inside that sloshed when you broke them. When he said slosh he shook his hand up and down like shaking a can of milk. His shinobi classmates sat bead-strung along the line of folding chairs with blank faces.
The medal was hard, the color of a kunai with spit on it, really kind of useless. He shined it up with his elbow until he and Itachi could see their faces in it. Uchiha Shisui it said. First Place Academy Oratory Competition it said.
"I don't see why you should get a prize for talking," said Itachi, who was only seven and didn't understand anything.
"Talking's everything," said Shisui. "You saw what I did back there. Showed them pictures, and without my sharingan even."
"A picture's just a picture."
"It's not just a picture. I made them see what I wanted to see, don't you get it? I made them."
"So shut up, and let me think about it, okay? I think I'm onto something here."
Late that afternoon he went to his dandelion field which at that time of year was pregnant with yellow heads and bees, more vibrant than any of the flowers that hedged the Uchiha courtyards. He sat cross-legged on the ground the way all geniuses sat, or so he had gathered in class assemblies staring at the Yellow Flash's face from the other side of a greyscale photograph. He got a can of milk out of his satchel and popped the tab off, threw it at a particularly fat and drunken-looking bumblebee.
"Hey," he said. "Hey, come here."
It buzzed around ignoring him, sleepy with nectar and listing from side to side, looking too heavy to fly another inch. That was the thing he loved about bees. Like firecrackers, they were imminent disaster, but they worked. He hunched his legs up so that he was looking out over a crusty old scab and dredged up a little bit of chakra in his throat like a good burp. The thing was to add words, when you were talking; you could never be too safe. His brow furrowed with concentration gleamed up at him from the polished surface of the oratory medal.
"Hey," he said again, voice heavy with chakra. "Doesn't it look nice over here where I am? I smell so good, like a big old chocolate sundae. Why don't you come over here?"
This time the bee came. "Don't you dare sting me," he amended, and watched as it perambulated lazily around his hand. "I'm not a very good person to sting," he told it. "If you sting me, your whole butt might come off. Pop, just like that. Buttless. You don't want to sting me."
It didn't sting him.
It took him a few more tries, but by the time he was done only one bee had stung him. He still didn't quite know if he was on to something or not, but his throat felt raw from chakra and his wrist was shouting spangles of pain from the bee sting, so he decided to call it a day. Before going home he picked up one of the premature dandelions and blew, hard, setting a few grey wishes afloat over the sea of gold weeds.
He used it on bees. Cats, when he got the hang of it. Mosquitoes in the early evenings, yelling chakra-infused epithets at the insects orbiting universe-like his sun-bright glass of lemonade, dotting his sticky fingers, and whooping with demonstrative pleasure when they careened into the electric bulbs and died on contact.
One afternoon he used it for the first time on his sister, when she steamed vegetables with pepper and rice for his dinner because she wanted to fortify him against the coming change of seasons. "Eat up," she said, looping some flyaway hair around her forehead protector as she cooked. They had thatched hair, not quite Uchiha, kinky in the summer heat and curling-up fall leaves when the rainy season came. "Shisui, can't you just eat what I make you for once? You'll have meat tomorrow. I haven't gotten the paycheck from my last mission yet. Just eat it. Just eat it, please—"
"You could take me out," he said, spilling chakra into his throat, the now-familiar reflex like gagging a little on his own words. "You could take me to the yakiniku restaurant. It's good, and I bet other families will be there. I bet Hana's family will be there, because her mom hates cooking. And you do too, don't you, nee-chan? Gets your hair all full of sweat, all icky. Maybe you want to take me to the yakiniku restaurant instead."
So she took him. She bought him the seafood medley, which was the most expensive thing on the menu, and he ate every bit of it slightly burnt and slathered with sauce the way he liked it, and best of all, she didn't eat very much, so he ate her share of the prawns and shrimp tails too. He fell asleep with barbeque taste strong on his tongue.
In the night he woke up to the clink of chopsticks on a bowl rim. For a moment of disorienting terror he wondered when the tastes in dreams had become so vivid, then realized he was actually eating. His mouth was filled with plain steamed rice and peppered vegetable. In the darkness he could see the alien curve of his sister's cheek, a muscle twitching under skin, her eyes tossing back discarded light from outside.
"Just eat it," she was muttering. "Just eat it, Shisui, please, just eat it, just eat it, justeatitjusteatit—"
"I don't—" he said, but she thrust more of the rice and vegetables into his mouth. He gagged on the chopsticks and swallowed. The taste of the barbeque mingled with the vegetables. Just eat it. Chew, swallow, chew faster. Just eat it. Fighting back the rising taste of illness as she fed him with an inhuman speed that she had never possessed in daylight. At one point he panicked and looked over at her tatami next to his. His blood went cold as he realized she was still sleeping there, mouth slightly tilted in the smiling dreams she always had, but even as he reached out for her a surreally strong grip seized his chin. "I said eat it" she said in a low voice, and wrenched him back towards her. "Just eat it, Shisui—"
He finished the rice and lunged towards her sleeping form on the mat. With a clatter the bowl dropped; when he turned, it lay in two pieces on the other side of his mat. She woke up with a start at the sound of pottery fracturing.
"Are you—oh, Shisui! You're shaking! What's wrong, kiddo?"
He shook his head, eyeing the familiar furrowed brow and the thatched hair so like his own. She still smelled a little like the vinegar-scented interior of the barbeque house. Slowly he inched towards her, then burrowed his head in the comfortable plane between her shoulder and her breast. She worked a few fingers into his hair. He felt her stiffen, then begin to laugh.
"Huh, would you look at that!" she said, indicating the broken bowl. "My vegetables make a good midnight snack, do they? Told you they weren't that bad. I guess I got my wish!"
He tried again. At the first class session of the day he convinced Umino Iruka kick over a punching pole, and during the morning recess he waited there until a boy who looked exactly like Iruka, with the same scar across his nose and the same tufted ponytail came up to the grounds, smiled at him without humor, and righted the punching pole again. He did it agonizingly slowly, lifting it inch for inch, and all the while Shisui could look past him into the schoolhouse window and see Iruka sitting in class, anxiously shooting his hand into the air whenever Nara Yoshino asked a question. The other boy finished lifting the pole and left in the direction of the dandelion fields when he was finished. Shisui sat very still and then dashed after him, and when he got to the edge of the synthetic grounds noticed that there were footsteps in the grass.
Everyone asked whose they were. Shisui pointed to his sandal size and the footprints' and said he had no idea, and only Itachi looked at him appraisingly, still as the point of a compass, wide eyes fixed upon Shisui as if he could split his soul wide open and draw out the secret like sucking pips from a fruit.
"I don't think it's a good idea," said Itachi.
"Why? It's just talking," said Shisui pointedly, and Itachi didn't bring it up again.
Fourteen years old, chuunin graduate. He learned to talk big and talk shit and tell the difference, Uchiha emblem firebrand hot on his bicep, flak jacket with the collar turned up. He liked the way it looked, hiding from view his pimply neck that could be snapped like any other. Like the other genin he sharpened his weaponry in his own way. Learned to cant his hip out to the side when he talked, tilt his chin, shove his hands in his pockets. Sometimes gesture a little like weaving an invisible cats' cradle. Con men talked with eyes sliding like metal balls on a wooden surface; his were soft and serene and burned swiss cheese holes in the fabric of the known universe, wrapping a silken and watertight sense of charisma around whoever it was he wanted to ensnare. Ignoring the mockery of some of his more dimwitted classmates, he spent a year with a shamisen, carefully molding his hair-thin countertenor into the lush baritone it would remain for the rest of his life.
His voice was his lifeline. He listened to its ebbs and flows, measured its fluctuations with precision, and wielded it like nothing less than the most conscientious of musicians. The Uchiha were proud. Some nights Fugaku would let him perform at clan meetings, wrapped in kimono singing something intricate and laughably heartbreaking and drawing tears from matrons without even having to use his chakra.
Itachi waited with him in the courtyard one night as he took apart the shamisen and separated the pieces into their velvet casings. They were both good at growing up, and Itachi was no exception, perfectly balanced as a sai and about as unobtrusive. Shisui held his hand out for the plectrum and Itachi handed it to him. He lingered over placing it in the case. Already he could hear his sister calling "Shisui? Ready to go? Where are you?"
"You're quite the polymath," Itachi said, so low Shisui nearly missed it.
He shrugged. "Not really. They're all kind of related."
"I might have wished to learn an instrument."
Their friendship, in many ways, had depended on the hairline avoidance of exactly things like this. The vocalization of wishes foretold an intimacy that was untenable in the world they inhabited. In some ways they built layers around themselves as they grew older; Shisui convinced himself every year that Itachi was emotionless and unaffected by the world although he knew this was all bullshit, and they both pretended not to notice that they knew each other well enough to throw cracks in the farce. The severity of the grey kimono made Itachi look much younger. Too formal and too lovely to inhabit their reality: post-meeting, watching his cousin dismantle his shamisen. Shisui felt like he was treading on eggshells. When he turned Itachi around so that his back was against his chest, he could feel Itachi's breath filling them both.
"This is useless. It was only a fancy—"
"Shut up ," he said. "Here. No, loosen up your fingers. You're too tense. This is all about relaxing, trusting your body to do the work for you—" voice inflating with persuasion and velvety chakra, not unlike his heart in his mouth— "you already know how to do this, buddy, you already know how to make dead things sing."
When he took his hands away, Itachi began to play an air so sweet and high that he was sure his blood began to run backward at the sound. The planet seemed to continue tilting. Ceaseless, gravitational. With the heaviness of it all his head came down to Itachi's shoulder, where the kimono was just skewed slightly free of his neck, and he placed his lips there, just a touch. Itachi played on, and Shisui ran his tongue along that unmappable curve made pale by moonlight, listening to the notes. Perfect chords. Unimagined harmonies.
That night he watched as Itachi-not-Itachi dropped the shamisen over and over, making discordant noises and fumbling the motion of his fingers. "Useless," said the apparition. "Useless useless useless."
"You played, goddamnit," said Shisui. "You did."
"Only a fancy," and in one fumble the spectre or whatever it was dropped the shamisen directly on the porch, where a string snapped with a cat's mewl of a sound. "For god's sake, cut out the racket, Shisui!" yelled his sister from inside. The string bent back and forth, headless stalk waving bereft of its petals. Shisui picked it up and flicked at it.
"Love me, love me not," he said, and the phantom said, "Useless."
His genin teacher bought him the extra round of drinks he usually refused to celebrate his inaugaration into the police force. "To my best student," he said, clinking his pint against Shisui's miserable half-tankard. They downed together and Shisui said, "Tastes like favoritism, sensei."
"Can you blame me? You were the easiest genin I ever had. Came in with your own technique, and everything. I think you might've had a thing or two to teach me, actually—be honest: sure you didn't ape that technique off some lazy-ass Yamanaka?"
"God, no. Vintage Uchiha Shisui. No hand seals, no movement, just natural persuasive talent and a little chakra."
"You bet. When that little angel of yours hits her growth spurt, you'd better keep her away from me."
It was a mark of the kind of man Yamanaka Inoichi was that he didn't wince at the crassness of the remark. He chuckled and waved another bartender over. Looking at his blond and baby-faced visage Shisui wondered if he had ever seen dead shinobi walking in the night after twisting their minds into unnatural shapes. On one mission he had convinced a man not to touch him and that night the specter had appeared next to his bedroll, muttering his mission instructions in a low and hysterical breath as he systematically broke both Shisui's legs. His teammates hadn't found the perpetrator, but there had been footprints.
"Listen, kid," Inoichi was saying suddenly, eyeing Shisui with that particularly incisive gaze characteristic of very young children and lucid drunks. Itachi still looked at him like that. "I think you've figured out that what you do isn't natural, and that's why you're so damn conceited."
"I'm 'knowledgeable about my capacities,'" Shisui air-quoted. "Page forty-three, mission assignment handbook."
"You know enough about yourself. I don't think you know enough about others."
"Sensei, that's how I operate. All I need to know is what flavor of bull they prefer to help them get their lies down."
"And what about those things that follow you around?"
"Nothing follows me around."
"You sure? It wasn't a missing-nin that broke your legs in Kirigakure, Shisui-kun, no matter what you told your unfortunately gullible teammates."
"People have wishes, Shisui-kun. Things they want to do. Decisions they want to make. It doesn't matter whether they're good decisions or bad ones. What matters is that they're theirs. You can take them away if you want, but this universe of ours is built for free will. What doesn't find its way in the natural order of things will come back."
Wishes. His sister muttering as she gorged him on rice to the point of vomiting, Iruka's silent form righting the pole. The man in Kirigakure breaking his legs as he had wanted to do in broad daylight. Itachi saying useless, over and over again as if it were all he believed in.
"Yeah," he found himself saying defiantly, running his tongue along the edge of his tankard. "Yeah, well. I've got wishes too, you know. Too bad. It's too bad."
That night, drunk and seeting with a cauterized emptiness, he had thrown pebbles against Itachi's window until Itachi had slid open the glass and leaned out just far enough for Shisui to kiss. He placed his hand on the thin flash of skin between Itachi's collar and his unbound hair, racked his mouth with his tongue until Itachi's eyes closed. A light rain was falling. He kissed him until they were both damp and shivering and then he placed hands around his waist and drew him out into the moist grass. Thunder overhead, the teeming silence before a rainstorm. Itachi's wrist was so thin he could see the veins sliding like tributaries underneath the skin.
And without warning Shisui's own wish was breaking across his skin, wet like the belly of the clouds had split open over his shaking body. He realized that Itachi was and had always been the embodiment of a special silence, what he supposed people meant when they spoke of grace—wordless respite, the clamor of sounds stilled when the world met his form. The rain crowded Shisui's eyelashes and Itachi appeared through it a watercolor soft at the edges. No need to talk, no need to structure sentences like dice—only this, the hundreds of water droplets falling, Itachi's mouth and hands and scent organic things fashioned of the elements.
Until that moment he had never quite understood what it meant for a human being to have free will, but he saw it then—how if anyone were to bend that wish out of reality it would go on existing, in some place more real than reality; if anyone were to twist what he felt in that moment, that sense of I, Uchiha Shisui, I desire this would tear space apart until it came back to the world again, to burn itself out like a shooting star.
His heart rose. Borne like dandelion seeds twisting in the wind. Life taking root. Life clawing its way back from whatever abyss he found to hide it. Life undefeated, nothing real except the face of that life, and his own perceived power only a mirage.
He used it anyway, because without his silver tongue Uchiha Shisui was nothing at all.
They came more thickly then. One particularly difficult raid he found himself forced to throw the jutsu out in blanket form over twelve people, and that night he found himself ringed by twelve forms that all sighed incessantly as they broke two of his ribs and punctured a lung and put out one of his eyes. In the morning their forms in their jail cells were undisturbed, still sleeping.
"Hallucinations," said Itachi. "Traumatic. Guilt-induced. Genjutsu—"
"Shut up," said Shisui. "Just shut up. They're real. They do what they need to do and go back to wherever they came from. I guess they integrate back into the original person."
"Does it—hurt you?'
"What do you think?"
Itachi, stunned. The corner of that slim mouth was always begging to be kissed, but he could rarely do it anymore, so tired, kept awake solely by the incessant clamoring of the desires he had denied.
"Just shut up and listen to me," he screamed sometimes. "Do what I say, just do what I say!"
They watched him in silence.
When the coup was declared Itachi said nothing but, "You can stop it."
"You don't understand anything," Shisui snapped. "They find another way. Whatever wants to happen will always find another way."
Itachi was always eloquent in his disappointments and that evening was no exception, there after that meeting in early spring. The dandelion field was releasing its seeds again and a few of them touched butterfly kisses on his cheeks as they went by. Tangled in Itachi's hair they looked like adornments. Shisui didn't touch him.
They stood next to each other and watched the air fill with grey feathers and dust. Above Konoha the blue sky was like a banner, but Shisui knew this only because it had looked like that long ago, reflected in the secondhand shine of his prize medal. There was no color there now. Soon it would be over anyway. Itachi was colorless himself. Shisui remembered the silver kimono he had worn the night of the shamisen concert and thought that it suited him; he had always looked best in shades of grey. It suddenly seemed imperative that he tell Itachi something—tell him anything—to explain why he had done what he did, made a living of stealing others' desires.
"I used to think I could talk the sun out of the sky," he said.
Itachi said, "I believe you already did," and like that he knew that it was over; like that he knew that it had never really begun.
A night at a riverbank:
Itachi's fingertips, his neck; blue in his eyes and mouth and ears; water rushing—
"Don't," screamed Shisui, every last reserve of chakra drained into the single syllable. The sharingan coiled like a spring about to snap.
"I must—" Itachi gasped above him. "I must-"
And Itachi didn't.
It was almost two in the morning when the phantom came. It wore Itachi's breastplate and Itachi's single freckle above the collarbone and Itachi's resolute expression, and it was Itachi, and it wasn't.
"No," said Shisui. "Goddamnit, no, I don't—you can't—"
He stumbled backward. The candle he had lit in a jar tipped over and lay there burning macabre on the floorboards. The phantom stepped over the flame. Its skin did not burn.
Shisui's heart hammered in his chest as he slapped the shunshin around himself and imploded out of the house. Down the steps he flew and out into the dandelion fields behind the compound, the stalks brushing his ankles like so many whispers. He ran and the shunshin propelled him outwards in short bursts of speed. His tongue seemed to swell to bursting. Even as he flew fast enough to singe the edges of his hair he saw the phantom Itachi waiting in the center of the field, seeming to draw everything towards him. Suddenly a seizure of terror arpeggiated itself all the way down his back, a frisson of cold, as he saw that he had involuntarily taken himself close to the banks of the Nakano river. The phantom Itachi rose and came closer to him, walking as slowly as if he were dancing. As if they were two people in a waltz, captivated by music only they could hear.
Shisui collapsed on the riverbank. He put his head in his hands. He swallowed his chakra until it was a hard knot in his throat and then for the first time in his life he choked out "This isn't real—this is a dream, Shisui, and you're going to wake up right now—"
When Shisui woke up he was inexplicably at the Nakano's edge, listening to the nighttime water.
"Whoa," he said. "Why am I here?"
There was a light touch on his shoulder and he looked up. Itachi was there, dressed in his ANBU clothing. Something about him looked slightly off, but Shisui was too bewildered to care.
"Itachi?" he asked. "Hey, you okay? Want to help me up?"
Itachi said, "I must."