Written for the 2010 Advent Calendar at bitter_nakano on LJ.


Ballad of the Victorious Childhood Friend

. . .

Itachi met Shisui for the very first time on the stone steps outside the local Shinto shrine, in a meet-cute straight out of a shoujo title. It was a cold, windblown day in November, and Shisui's lips were stained cherry-red from the longevity sweets he had been glutting himself on. He ended up wearing Shisui's haori home, to the deep confusion of his mother, who had only meant to leave him on his own for a few minutes. The hem was too long, skirted the ground when he walked, sweeping up a tiny entourage of dust clouds.

. . .

It was war time, of course, but that didn't mean traditions ought to be skimped on, as clearly stipulated by his father. This did not prevent Fugaku from skimping on the observational aspect of said traditions on some foggy pretext like "Emergency Strategy Meeting", but at least he was available to fold his arms and nod approvingly as his son toddled out the front door after his mother. For a father of the Uchiha persuasion, this was an awe-inspiring display of paternal affection.

"You'll have lots of fun today, Itachi-kun," Mikoto promised. "There'll be a lot of other kids there for you to make friends with."

But in fact, the event was very sparsely attended, other parents of appropriately aged children apparently lacking the tremulous love for traditions that the Uchiha held in their fluttering hearts. Itachi didn't actually mind, deducing that this must all be part of the fun as he made his way down to the gate to wait while his mother went inside the shrine for a conversation with the priest, because parental supervision was for people who didn't believe in character-building.

And as soon as he was beginning to develop a healthy appreciation for the scenic desolation of his surroundings, it was rudely destroyed by the sound of heavy geta clacking away on stone. He looked up to see approximately fifty billion tons of ceremonial fabric in pleasing shades of black and navy descending beside him on the step. Drowning somewhere inside the silken cascade was a boy with mussed black hair and a stick of bright red candy dangling from his mouth.

"Ahhhh," the boy sighed to the grey, grey sky. "This is such a bother." Itachi had just enough time to note the embroidered crest on the breast of his haori before their eyes met and the newcomer grinned, smugly.

"You snuck out too? Nice. I just barely got away. Made my awesome escape while otousan was greeting one of our clanswomen."

In his very limited social experience, Itachi had never met anyone who came on this strongly for so little reason. Perhaps there was something deeply flawed with this as-yet-unnamed relative. He was struck speechless. This silence was interpreted as incomprehension.

"Oh, so a clanswoman is—" the boy began to clarify, but then seemed to decide that a sociology lecture on lineal kinship was a little intense for a first meeting. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a crinkled package, the green turtle-seal already torn. "Want some candy?"

Maybe it's a medical problem, Itachi concluded. He took the candy.

. . .

In the span of three minutes, Shisui had volunteered, in sequence: his name, age, favorite food, and controversial opinion on the philosophy of parenting. He moved his hands a lot when he talked. He liked to use the word 'awesome'. It was amazing the stick of candy managed not to fall out of his mouth.

In return, Itachi said, "Nghrgh."

"Don't talk much, d'ya?" Shisui said sagely. "It's okay. I haaaated my first time too. Only went this year 'cause of the awesome eats. You're lucky, you won't have to do this again until you're, like, seven."

He smiled dreamily, and ran his sugary fingers through Itachi's hair, which at that point in time could be generously likened to the fluffy down of sparrow chicks in the care of particularly neglectful parents. "You know, you should grow this out. You'll look cuter. Not that you're not cute now or anything, just sayin'."

Itachi promptly bit his candy in half, and then—well, he must have done something, because Shisui's perpetual smile capsized into a frown.

"Whatsamatter?" he asked, and actually prodded Itachi in the cheek. "Your face got red all of a sudden—are you cold? Here."

He shrugged off his thick jacket and draped it around Itachi's shoulders. Which, while admittedly effective against nippy November winds, did absolutely nothing to alleviate the facial discoloration problem. Perhaps this was what his mother had meant when she'd encouraged him to make friends, who, judging on the sole basis of this experience, equated to people who gave you things and offered unsolicited beauty tips.

Satisfied with his act of unprovoked chivalry, Shisui leapt to his feet. "Gotta go before otousan catches me," he said, and was halfway down the steps before Itachi could blink. At the bottom step, Shisui spun around and pumped his fist in the air. "Do your best, imouto-chan! I'll cheer for you! See ya in four years!"

. . .

Naturally, it did not take nearly so long for them to meet again. In contrast, almost a decade had gone by before Itachi finally understood the implication of those parting words.

"…you thought I was a girl."

Shisui winced in memory, affecting the prevaricating demeanor of one caught in medias unbecoming conduct with various herbivores. "It was an honest mistake," he protested. "I was five, and you were wearing a kimono. I know for a fact your father understands the concept of the hakama—I've seen him wearing them."

Itachi fingered a shuriken studiously, and neglected to mention that aforementioned kimono had belonged to his mother, who in turn had inherited it from her mother, and possibly going back even further than that. Either his parents had been unwilling to break the chain, or, as he sometimes deeply suspected, they had always yearned for a daughter.

"Still," Shisui said in an obvious attempt to change the subject. "I'm glad we had that talk." He reached over and tugged lightly on the short ponytail that Itachi had only very recently started wearing, every bit as handsy as he had been at the age of five.

"You took my advice," Shisui said simply, and even though the day was a sweltry, oppressive July, Itachi thought he could feel the edged, shivery air of that long-ago November, heavy like a breath just before the exhale and several shades paler than the deep charcoal of Shisui's eyes.

The strange thing was—the strange thing was that, in those intervening years, he had witnessed those eyes in their infinitely many incarnations: lambent with laughter, huge and luminous in dreadful shadows, faintly blazing in the dance of combat. The strange thing was that he had seen all that, and yet a careless tug of Shisui's lips or an intricate flick of his long-fingered hand could always drag Itachi back to those first moments on the step, unsteady and out-of-focus, the cloying tang of chitose-ame sweet and teasing on the tip of his tongue.

The Shichi-go-san (or 7-5-3) is one of Japan's unique festivals, held on the 15th of November. Boys aged three and five, and girls aged three and seven are taken to a Shinto shrine to pay their respects and pray for good health and prosperity. Chitose-ame (longevity candy) is traditionally eaten on this day—chitose literally means 'a thousand years'.

…yay for culturally appropriate festivity? ._.