Title: all the scars you never showed
Summary: In slow motion the blast is beautiful.
Warnings: Drug/alcohol abuse. Angst. A lot of blah.
A/N.: This was written for octuavius_x in the Secret Santa Exchange on bitter_nakano. (and fuck if I'm not completely rusty - I haven't written for the ItaShi fandom in ages) It started out as an attempt to fill the second prompt ("older and in ANBU, Itachi falls for him first and Shisui is being a dick about it"), but at some point my muse seems to have gotten off track to take a detour through the wilderness and deep into the "Let's-fuck-with-xyz's-brain-land" to throw a party there, never to be seen again. As a result, the outcome is quite a bit different from what I originally intended it to be, but I hope you like it anyway.
all the scars you never showed
The first time he sees Shisui is at the ANBU initiation ceremony. It is not the fact that he is almost a head taller than everyone else that catches his attention, nor the overall dishevelled and disarrayed look that should be impossible to achieve with the starched military uniform they are wearing and that makes him earn quite a few disapproving and condescending looks from the bystanders (most of which he gleefully ignores, as far as Itachi can tell, or answers by pulling faces at the indignant attendants). It is the circumstance that he cannot seem to stay still, not even for a second; he's constantly fidgeting, tapping his feet, running his fingers through the unruly mob of hair surrounding his head like some sort of dark halo, yawning, humming, smiling, brimming with energy. He stands out against the dark masses clad in black and silver like a splash of colour, like a pool of blood on the snow.
Itachi watched him out of the corner of his eye, fascinated, and wonders how on earth he has never noticed him before. Konoha is not a small village, but even so, Itachi has almost all the names and faces memorised, not because he is particularly interested in people, but because it might come in handy during missions. Well, and because he was bored that one Sunday when he was on leave and had nothing better to do than learn data about more or less important members of their society by heart.
At some point, Shisui catches him staring and winks at him. Itachi can feel his cheeks starting to burn, and quickly averts his eyes.
When the speeches and vows are over, Shisui saunters over and greets him with a flashed smile and an elbow being shoved into his ribcage, a movement that comes so unexpected that Itachi can barely dodge it. Shisui's grin only widens and he says, "Pretty boring ceremony, wasn't it? I thought I'd gather cobwebs standing here 'cause they just couldn't get it over with."
Itachi didn't find the ceremony tedious at all, but he assumes that it might not be wise to point it out. An answer, as it seems, is not necessary anyway; the moment Shisui starts talking, the words rush out of his mouth with the speed of water rushing down a waterfall. He doesn't stop once, not even for breath, it seems, until the Hokage announces that they will proceed with proclaiming the teams they will usually work with. Itachi usually prized brain hasn't been able to process half of what the boy has been saying, but the last sentence he utters, full of excitement, is one he will remember for the rest of his life.
"Hey, maybe we will be in one team!"
Shisui is everything Itachi isn't. He is also the epitome of the kind of behaviour that Itachi would normally with mild annoyance at best. Having to deal with a character like him must be inconceivably trying, he determines.
Still, the anticipation of that outcome is strangely intriguing. So he smiles back and says, "Yes, hopefully."
As it turns out, they are put on the same squad, along with Inuzuka Hana, a tall, tomboyish girl with quite spectacular mood swings and a frighteningly big triplet of ninken tailing behind her. Their captain is Shiranui Genma, a revelation that sends Shisui into some kind of euphoric fit, if solely for Genma's reputations as womanizer and occasional party animal. Once they have all introduced themselves to each other, they decide to celebrate their get-together and strengthen their bond by going out to get some drinks. Itachi doesn't want to come, but when he is about to excuse himself politely, Shisui resolutely throws his arm around his shoulders and drags him along, shooting all his protests with a simple "Don't even begin to think you can weasel your way out of this," – a statement that, albeit being a fairly poor pun, has the others laughing – and that is that.
This night, he sits at the table with them for the first time, not drinking, barely speaking, just observing the way Shisui's lips curl when he laughs, the ghost of a dimple on his right cheek, the way his hands move, fluidly, endlessly, accentuating every word he speaks, tracing the sharp contours of his chin with his eyes and marvelling at the way the moonlight dances on his skin. He watches while Shisui flirts and jokes and gets hopelessly drunk, and when he helps him walking home later, when the sun is almost at the point of rising again and Shisui staggers and nearly throws up on his shows, there are only two thoughts that cross his mind.
The first is: What on earth have I gotten myself into?
The second is: Kami, he is beautiful.
The thought is disconcerting, and even more so is the nervous flutter of his heart every time Shisui looks at him with his big eyes from under these ridiculously long and pitch black eyelashes. They are dark grey and full of genuine juvenile joy and excitement, only marginally clouded by the shadows of the things he has seen and done.
Because Itachi is only fifteen and starved for some real, genuine attention and has no experience in romantic relationships whatsoever he falls for Shisui hard and fast. Later, when he looks back at it and analyses the situation rationally, he will realise that this is mostly due to the circumstance that Shisui is the first friend he has ever had.
Because Shisui was just there.
He wasn't exactly an outsider before; people were polite enough, and respectful, sometimes even awed by his skills, but they either didn't want to have anything to do with him (because being around a prodigious child is straining and frustrating and sometimes scary), or he wasn't interested in them in the slightest. But Shisui, Shisui is interesting, and he is also the first person to ever show some real interest in him, the first one to give him the feeling that he likes him for who he is, not for his achievements or his reputation or his family. Shisui comes to him of his own free will, telling him stories and making him smile and always sitting so close that their shoulders nearly touch and his scent fills Itachi's nose. Shisui comes into his life like a whirlwind, bringing chaos and colours and warmth and life, and although it messes with Itachi's carefully composed lifestyle, he doesn't complain. Soon, Shisui fills his every thought, taking a place in everything he lays his eyes upon.
Itachi has to struggle to remember a time when it wasn't like this. The time before Shisui is nothing more than a vague idea, covered by thick mist. At some point, they have merged into a hybrid. People stop thinking about Itachi as an individual. Now it's always Itachi-Shisui. Shisui-Itachi. As the months pass, it becomes impossible to make a separation between them.
He doesn't know why Shisui has chosen him to be his friend. Unlike Itachi, Shisui has always been popular. He has other friends. He could have better friends, too, he assumes. People who are more like him. But maybe it is the difference that draws Shisui in like a moth to a flame; the fact that he can always talk to Itachi and Itachi will listen, without interrupting him, without wasting time on mindless babbling. Or maybe it is the way they can communicate without words, the way their movements in battle are perfectly coordinated, as if their bodies moved on their own accords, always instinctively knowing what the other would do.
Maybe it's the fact that Itachi, too, is always just there, waiting for him.
That, it seems, is what distinguishes him from all the other persons in Shisui's life.
You see, Itachi is not the only one fascinated by Shisui's charm and quick wit and deadly elegance, and consequently there are a lot of people who want to be close to him. Shisui, unlike Itachi, enjoys the attention. But he gets bored very easily as well. This is most easily observed by keeping track of the women passing through his hands. Over time, he has picked up some of Genma's questionable skills, it seems, and has converted into one of Konoha's biggest heartthrobs himself. Mostly they are just one-night stands. Itachi tells himself to not be jealous, because they don't mean anything. Sometimes, they stay longer, but Shisui's relationships tend to be destructive, and in the end, none of them last longer than a few weeks.
Itachi keeps quiet and watches and listens, and tries to ignore the painful clenching of his heart whenever Shisui is gushing over a woman as well as the desperate hope and dark satisfaction every time his friend breaks up with them.
He is at the point of accepting that what he wishes for can never be (because Shisui doesn't look at him the way he looks at Shisui, because Shisui doesn't even notice he is looking at him, because Shisui doesn't look at anyone the way he looks at Shisui, much less at men) when one day Shisui tells him, out of the blue, that he spent the night with Hatake Kakashi.
They are sitting at the riverbank of the Nakano, under the blossoming Sakura trees, enjoying the peaceful, quiet atmosphere, when Shisui drops that bomb, casually, as if it didn't mean anything. (Knowing Shisui, it probably didn't.)
All Itachi can do is stare at him in shock. His stomach flips and Itachi doesn't know whether to rejoice, because if Shisui has slept with one man there is a chance he will do so again, or nurse the hole that has suddenly appeared in his chest, because Shisui slept with a man, and that man was not him.
His silence seems to unnerve Shisui. "You don't mind, do you?" he asks, his voice quivering with anxiety for the first time since Itachi has known him.
Itachi swallows. His mouth is very dry, but he manages to find the words he always says when Shisui hooks up with someone. "No, not at all."
Shisui exhales, relieved. "Good," he says, quietly. He doesn't look at Itachi, just keeps doodling in the sand beneath their feet. "Good."
The next morning, he leaves on a solo mission without saying goodbye. The only information Itachi manages to gather is that it is highly confidential and on short notice. It's the first mission in four years they haven't completed together. Knowing that Shisui is a more than just capable shinobi, Itachi tells himself not to worry. In his opinion, there is nothing Shisui cannot do.
Five weeks pass and then Shisui comes back, his clothes torn and splattered with blood and his face as hard as stone, but physically unharmed.
It all goes downhill from there.
Shisui refuses to talk about the mission, and Itachi doesn't pry. He thinks he will come around eventually, if he wants to.
Instead, he changes his lifestyle from 'not exactly prissy' to downright destructive. Shisui has never led a healthy life, often training too hard and not sleeping enough, eating little and drinking too much. Until now, though, it was never a reason to worry. Now the sleep-deprivation, drunkenness, starving and exhaustion are taking over, becoming part of his daily routine. He comes to the Nakano less and less, and when he does, there are dark circles under his eyes and his skin is sickly pale. He doesn't date anymore, and changes his sex partners (now regularly both male and female) even quicker than before. He seems to have difficulties concentrating on his work, often being distracted on his missions, inevitably getting himself into grave danger every time.
It is after a mission in which he nearly got himself killed that Itachi pulls the ripcords and decides to intervene. While Shisui is busy getting drunk at the nearest brothel, he writes up the mission report, for once not editing the real events, and adds a note about his concern about Shisui's mental stability. He delivers it to the Hokage personally. The old man takes a look at it and pulls Shisui off all missions for an unspecified period of time immediately. When he turns to leave, Sarutobi Hiruzen says, gravely: "Look after him. I cannot afford to lose one of my best shinobi."
Itachi just nods, because that's we he does. That's what he always has done, and what he will do for the rest of his life.
He finds Shisui stumbling out of the brothel with several bruises covering his skin and a split lip, the owner of the establishment shouting insults at him. He attempts to wriggle himself out of Itachi's grasp and throw himself at the man, so Itachi takes the easy route and knocks him out and carries him home.
He hasn't entered Shisui's flat in a while, and the sight leaves him speechless. Shisui has never been one for orderliness, but right now, it resembles a garbage dump more than a place you live in. There are clothes (both dirty and washed) everywhere, right next to kunai and shuriken and empty beer and sake bottles and the rests of some greasy take-out boxes. On the night stand, there is a bag of brightly coloured pills. It's half empty. Itachi doesn't have to ask what they are.
He wonders how it got so far.
He wonders why he didn't do anything earlier.
He wonders why Shisui didn't ask for help.
Itachi tucks Shisui in as carefully as possible after changing his clothes, disinfects his wounds and sets to work. He starts off by dumping the drugs and empty bottles in the trash can, followed by the leftovers and a good deal of his old clothes, does the laundry and puts away the weapons before searching the cupboards for more alcohol. He doesn't have to search for long. The only thing there is an abundance of in Shisui's flat is sake. He dumps it all in the sink and then sits down next to Shisui, waiting for his friend to wake up.
The sun is nearly setting again when Shisui finally blinks his eyes open, looking at him disorientated, his expression going from sleepy to surprised to guilty to defensive within a second. "What are you doing here?" he asks, his voice raspy, and then covers his eyes with his hands and groans in pain.
"Here," Itachi says and hands him a cup of tea, "drink this."
Shisui doesn't take it. "What the hell are you doing here, Itachi? Do we have a mission? Did I miss something?"
Itachi swallows. "You're not going to go on missions for a while."
Shisui freezes and then, very slowly, takes his hand away from his face to look at him. "Itachi," he says, half-horrified, half-threatening, "what did you do?" He takes a look around his bedroom, then, and if it had been possible for him to look any paler, Itachi is sure he would have blanched.
"What I had to do," Itachi replies calmly.
To say Shisui is not pleased would be an understatement. Itachi is sure he has never seen him that angry before. "Get out," he grits out.
"Shisui," he tries to reason, "I realise my course of action might have been suboptimal, but-"
"Get out," Shisui snarls again, sitting up. "Who the fuck do you think you are? This is my life and I get to decide what to do with it."
"I'm your friend," he argues. "I'm only trying to help."
"I don't want your help. I don't need your help."
"Yes, you do."
Shisui stares at him coldly. "Get out," he repeats, for the fourth time. "Get the hell out or I promise I will hurt you."
There is no way he could have defeated Itachi in the state he is in – his hands are shaking, clearly not only because of his anger but mostly because of the withdrawal – and they both know it, but there is so much hate in his voice that Itachi recoils, and obeys. He stops once more at the door, without looking back at Shisui. He doesn't think he can bear the sight. "I put the fresh clothes in your closet, and there is food in the fridge." He pauses and then, in an afterthought, adds, "You know where to find me."
Shisui doesn't reply. He doesn't even make a sound.
The next day, he returns to Shisui's flat only to find it deserted.
"Uchiha Shisui has requested to be put on leave and be allowed to leave the village for a while," the Hokage informs him.
"When will he return?" Itachi inquires.
The Hokage lifts his hand in a gesture of ignorance and desperation. "I'm sorry," he says. It sounds genuine, but that's of no use to Itachi. All he knows is that he has never felt so empty before. Nor so guilty. As if he failed him.
Because he did.
Life goes on.
Eight months pass without a word from his best friend. Then, one day, there is a letter in his mail, the address in a familiar scribble, sent from Kirigakure. Just two sentences that save and break him at the same time.
I'm getting married. Please come.
Itachi contemplates not going, but in the end, the longing to see Shisui again overwhelms him. He arrives one day before the wedding; the welcome is not quite as warm as he had hoped for, but that is probably just because Shisui is just as aware of the awkwardness that has crept up between them as he is. Shisui looks a lot better than the last time he saw him, less ragged, less sleep-deprived, but his eyes are still haunted. Maybe they will forever be this way. Maybe the Shisui he loved isn't there anymore. Maybe he never came back from that one solo mission.
Maybe he will come back one day.
"Ayame," he says as they sit on the bench outside. Shisui is smoking a cigarette, something he only does when he is nervous. Itachi wonders whether it is because of him or because of her. "She's a lovely girl. Gorgeous, too. You will like her."
"I'm sure I will," Itachi replies, although he is convinced he will absolutely despise her, despite wanting Shisui to be happy. But maybe that's the point. Shisui doesn't look too happy. But maybe that's as happy as he will ever get. Who is Itachi to say otherwise? "She must be quite special, to convince someone like you to marry her," he comments curiously, because Shisui was always very adamant about never wanting to marry. "I never thought I'd see the day you'd bind yourself to someone for the rest of your life."
Shisui laughs nervously. "Yeah, well. Me neither. But she's pregnant, and...well. I'm not a person who can't take responsibility for what he's done."
Itachi sits stunned.
Shisui laughs shakily at his incredulous expression. "Yeah, I know. I can't really see me as a father, either."
"You will be a great father," Itachi says automatically, because the Shisui he used to know would have been one, and maybe this Shisui can be, too.
"I don't know." He stares into the distance. "I'm scared, Itachi," he admit quietly. "I'm scared I will screw this up. I just want to do something right for once. I've only ever disappointed people. I don't want to disappoint her. But I don't know if I can."
"You never disappointed me," Itachi says, although it's not quite true. There is a tinge of disappointment in his mind whenever he thinks of his friend, mixed with regret and worry, but that is all nothing compared to the need to be close to him. In the end, he muses, he wouldn't care if Shisui ripped his heart to shreds (which he has already done, unknowingly) – he would still tear the world apart for him.
He leans over and presses his lips against Shisui's temple, softly. "You will be wonderful."
Shisui exhales. "You're the only friend I have," he says gravely. "I don't think I ever acknowledged that. I treated you like shit, and yet here you are. How can you still believe in me, after everything I have done?"
"I love you," he states simply. He shouldn't have said the words out loud (he hadn't meant to, certainly not), but they stumble off his tongue before he can control himself. They've been sitting on the tip of his tongue for years, waiting for him to finally tell Shisui, and he cannot hold them in any longer, at one of the worst possible times ever.
Shisui smiles, beautifully broken, and ruffles his hair. "I love you, too," he says, and breaks Itachi's heart a little more. "You know that, right?"
Itachi nods, because he does know. In the end, that is the reason why Shisui kept spending time with him when he could have had anyone. Maybe, he thinks, he is the only person Shisui has ever really loved, and yet, it is still not enough.
The wedding is a quiet affair, possibly because Ayame's family does not appear to approve of the arrangement (most likely because of the circumstances under which the deal was sealed). The girl, Itachi finds, is indeed quite lovely and obviously head over heels in love with Shisui. It's the kind of obsession that either lasts a lifetime or turns into bitterness and hate over time.
They keep in touch more regularly now, sending letters back and forth. It cannot compare to the better times in any way, but Itachi is grateful for the small things. At first it seems that Shisui is becoming more and more excited about the prospect of being a father. When his daughter is born, he is exuberant.
But Shisui is not the kind of person who can deny his past, or do nothing for a long time. Soon, as Itachi can tell by what he writes, he is bored. He misses being a shinobi. He misses being needed. He misses the adrenaline, the exhilaration, the danger. Naturally, this puts a strain on his relationship to Ayame, who refuses to let Shisui go and objects to moving to Konoha so that he could pick up where he left.
Not even a year after Mai was born, there is someone hammering on Itachi's front door in the middle of the night, and he doesn't have to ask who it is. Shisui has brought a bag with his belonging that he carelessly throws through the room before collapsing onto the nearest chair. Itachi can tell he has been drinking again, and he is sure he has never seen him look so tired.
"She threw me out," he explains as Itachi sits down a bowl of miso soup in front of him, the words slightly slurred. "It's better that way, I s'ppose. She's better off without me." His face is alarmingly blank as he says this. His eyes dart from one place to another, scanning the room. "I don't reckon you've got sake here, do you?"
"Of course not." Shisui sighs. "What a shame."
"Getting yourself drunk won't make anything better."
"Not really," Shisui admits. "But a little. It helps me forget for a while. It helps me fall asleep."
Itachi sits down opposite of him, so that he can look at him. "What do you want to forget?" he asks carefully.
Shisui tenses visibly. He has slipped up, and they both know it. There is no going back anymore, as much as he wants it. His lips are pressed into a small line, but Itachi doesn't care that he doesn't want to talk about it.
"Shisui," he says softly, "what happened on that mission?"
"What mission?" Shisui asks, as if playing dumb would help him avoid confronting his problems.
"The solo mission you went on three years ago. You know which one I am talking about."
A long silence falls in which Shisui stares into the soup bowl as if somehow, it had the answers for every question ever asked. As if it could offer salvation. He looks utterly lost and very, very far away. "Do you know what it was about?" he finally asks. "I know you tried to find out; I know you. Did they tell you what they had me do?"
Itachi just shakes his head quietly.
"Didn't think so. Top secret and all this shit." Shisui swallows, hard. "And I'm sure it's nothing they're proud of either." He smiles bitterly, and still refuses to meet Itachi's eyes. "I was to go to an estate of a rich family that was supposed to pose a threat to Konoha and eliminate everyone. Nothing unusual. What they hadn't told me was that the people I would meet there were all children."
From somewhere, he has produced a kunai, and begins carving lines into Itachi's expensive wooded table. He doesn't care that Shisui is destroying one of the most valuable item in his flat; he is more concerned when his fingers tighten around the knife, cutting through the skin and the blood begins to flow down his wrists. Shisui doesn't seem to notice.
"I sent a message to the elders, asking them whether they were absolutely sure they hadn't made a mistake. These kids were hardly old enough to hold a pair of chopsticks – surely they didn't pose any threat to Konoha. They told me yes, and not to ask questions." Shisui's voice trembles with horror and self-disgust. "And I didn't. I did my job." A strangled sob escapes his throat, and he closes his eyes, as if that could make him hide from the world. "I killed them, Itachi. I killed them all."
Itachi leans forwards and gently pulls the kunai out of his hand.
"I can still hear them screaming," Shisui whispers. "Every night when I go to sleep I can hear them. Every time I close my eyes I can see the fear in their eyes. Every time I look at my daughter-" He breaks off abruptly. "You must hate me," he says, staring at the red liquid staining his skin and clothes.
It is only then that Itachi realises why Shisui has always refused to talk about this night. Not only because he hates himself, but also because he is afraid of losing him. "I don't hate you," he says, but Shisui doesn't seem to hear him.
"You wouldn't have done it. You would have done the right thing. You would have refused to do it."
Maybe he would have. Shisui was always more of a soldier than him. Maybe he wouldn't have. Does it matter?
Does anything matter anymore?
Itachi quietly gets up and gets some bandages. When he returns, he finds that Shisui has finally broken down, trying to hold back the sobs and screams that have tortured him for so long. He isn't sure whether Shisui is actually aware of him healing him and dressing his wounds, but once he finished, he manages to convince Shisui to follow him into the bedroom. He tucks him in and turns of the light, but as he turns to leave Shisui grabs his arm. "Please stay," he rasps, and who is Itachi to deny him?
He doesn't stop what happens next, either. He doesn't stop Shisui when he presses drunken kisses down his neck, nor when he slides his hands up his under his shirt. It's more than sex and it's not yet making love, it's comfort and desperation, joy and pain, all at once. Shisui clings to him as if he was drowning, and maybe that's what they are doing. It's the best night of Itachi's life, and it's the worst.
Everything will be different in the morning, and he doesn't think he can take the rejection again.
He wakes up before Shisui does, but his hopes of getting out of the bedroom unnoticed and being able to tell Shisui it was just a dream are destroyed when Shisui's eyes flutter open as he sits up, the movement having woken him. For a moment, neither of them says anything. The seconds tick by and all they do is stare at each other.
Then, Shisui says, quite ineloquently: "Oh shit."
Itachi flinches. "It doesn't matter. It didn't mean anything," he says stiffly and turns away.
"It did to you."
"It doesn't matter," Itachi repeats."You don't owe me anything. There is no need to feel guilty."
He grabs his arm again, much like the night before. "Don't go," Shisui pleads.
"You do not want this, Shisui."
"You're the only person I care about," Shisui says quietly. "The only person I have ever cared about. Please don't let me fuck you up, too. Not anymore." The grip on his arm loosens. "Let me make this one thing right. I know you can show me how."
Itachi ponders. If there is one person who can fix Shisui, it's him. It's a risk. It might not be worth it.
But it's Shisui. Of course he is worth it.
And it can't get any worse anyway.
"Okay," he says. "Okay."
The air tastes of bitterness and new beginnings.