Every time Shisui comes back from a long mission he’s more desperate. Itachi notices this, puts it away in the ever-growing file in his mind labeled Shisui, and understands.
He does understand. They have been so very lucky so far—lucky not to have been caught, lucky not to have been killed; twin concerns, one never far from the other. He looks at Inabi, whose chuunin-rank wife died while undercover in Suna years ago. He looks at his own parents, his jounin mother, and wonders how long and hard his father had to argue before Uchiha Mikoto agreed to retirement.
Itachi understands that as well. Stepping away from active duty has kept his mother safe, or as safe as one can be within the walls of a village filled with assassins. He and Shisui, on the other hand, are both very much active.
Ambivalent though he is toward the thought of a higher power, Itachi does possess a certain faith in balance. He has found that the world tends to even itself out sooner or later. Good luck will eventually be balanced by bad.
He and Shisui have been lucky, and so Itachi waits for the proverbial other shoe to drop.
Itachi suspects that Shisui is somewhat less agnostic than Itachi himself, yet he knows that some part of Shisui must share his belief in balance. He sees the barely-buried fear beneath Shisui’s eyes every time they reunite after weeks or months spent apart, a yawning darkness that threatens to flood out of him if he allows himself a moment to think. Itachi recognizes the expression well.
It’s not uncertainty. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’re both aware that they’re living—and loving—on borrowed time.
The longer Shisui is gone, the more death he witnesses and is party to, the more difficult it is for Itachi to pull him back from that brink. The more time he spends outnumbered by the dead, the harder it is for Itachi to remind him that there is still life to be lived.
He learned early on that control helps—control, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. Shisui is protective even when circumstances conspire to make protection impossible; he cannot control where he is dispatched, or when, or for how long. Too often he is ordered to kill and not told why, sent away and forced to trust those he loves to protect themselves.
Itachi taught himself at a young age to compartmentalize. Shisui’s own compartmentalization skills still require work. He still feels the loss of agency too much, and the resulting feelings of helplessness are dangerous when a moment’s distraction could cost Shisui his life.
But helplessness can be combated, which is why Itachi takes to keeping the restraints under his futon. They’re not much, just two short leather straps pilfered from the armory, but they’re strong enough to bind the wrists of an ANBU-level shinobi and soft enough to leave little in the way of marks.
(For related reasons, Itachi has also learned how to keep silent under increasing amounts of duress. It’s surprisingly not unlike the counter-interrogation training he received as a jounin.)
He grips at the ties when he can’t cling to anything else, when Shisui is fucking him with agonizing slowness and Itachi can’t speed the proceedings along because relinquishing his own control is part of the point. Shisui needs this. He needs to feel like he can keep hold of something.
He needs to know that Itachi isn’t going anywhere.
For his part, Itachi finds compartmentalization does him no good at all when Shisui is brought home wounded.
And Itachi can do nothing. He can’t show any sign of strain, not when his brother in particular watches him like a hawk; he can’t lose his temper, he can’t plant himself by Shisui’s bedside like a tree by the river and refuse to move until Shisui opens his eyes again. He can ask as many question as he dares of Shisui’s teammates under the guise of wanting to learn from their spectacular failure, but anything more will only arouse suspicion that neither of them need.
He attempts paperwork. Normally it does wonders for clearing his mind, but Itachi finds that all he can think about is his bed.
It isn’t a remarkable bed. Only a simple futon that he makes up each morning with military precision. On occasion—vanishingly rare occasion, when they’re both home long enough to take their time—it smells like Shisui, and Itachi always skips laundry the day after that.
If Shisui died, Itachi would never be able to sleep in that bed again. He pictures himself dragging a futon down to the river to burn it to nothing. The thought makes him shudder.
He ends up abandoning the paperwork in favor of reducing practice targets to ash. He makes it to forty-seven before he nearly passes out from exhaustion and drags himself back to the house, feeling Sasuke’s worried eyes on his back the entire time.
Shisui recovers, slowly, but Itachi does not forget that feeling.
The desperation that always follows his cousin home feels more and more justifiable.
I couldn’t touch you, he thinks later, when Shisui has recuperated and Itachi is to be sent out first thing in the morning.
I couldn’t touch you, not in front of the others. I had to take their word for it that you would live.
It wasn’t enough.
He doesn’t think Shisui would appreciate the confession now, however; Itachi is riding him hard, fingers digging into his chest, listening to his gasps and his hitching, bitten-off cries. He waits for Shisui to lose patience, which he does eventually, flipping them both over and kissing Itachi thoroughly as he presses in deeper. Itachi drags his fingers down Shisui’s back, feeling blood under his nails.
Shisui responds the way Itachi wants him to, slamming into him until he sees stars, until their kisses are nothing more than sloppy open-mouthed exchanges of breath as Itachi arches off the futon and tries not to bite through his tongue.
They understand one another, he thinks. He knows Shisui needs control in the aftermath of a life-or-death situation, and Shisui knows that Itachi needs pain. He needs bruises and scratches and a soreness that leaves him unable to sit comfortably for days—as if, by offering all of it up, Itachi can balance the world’s scales on his own. Bruises for minutes. Split lips for seconds.
As if, by urging Shisui to fuck him until the sounds Itachi makes are more sobs than anything else, he can convince the universe at large that they are already paying the toll. There is no need for them to give up anything more.
Shisui is an aggressive cuddler. More so when they haven’t slept in the same bed for a while; he drapes himself over Itachi shamelessly, heedless of the Konoha heat that makes even crossing the street feel like swimming through thick, muggy air.
Itachi, staring at the ceiling in favor of sleeping, tries to remember if there was a time when he would have pushed Shisui away. Retreated to a remote corner of the futon and tried to avoid the too-warm touch of any wayward limbs encroaching on his space.
He can’t recall if that time ever existed. Some part of Itachi thinks he’s been chasing after as much of Shisui as he could reach from the day he was born.
Shisui is snoring lightly now, his face uncreased and unconcerned. There is a satisfying ache in Itachi’s body that suggests he’ll have some very vivid memories to sustain him through the mission to Mizu. He closes his eyes, trying to fix everything about this moment in his mind so that he can look back on it later if he needs to.
And without meaning to, he thinks, please do not take him from me.
Their world does not offer bargains, he knows. But his faith in balance stands, and Itachi also knows that if asked, he would be willing to bargain everything he is if it meant keeping Shisui safe. Surely intent counts for something. Surely the fear of loss, that great gaping cavern that sometimes opens under his heart when Itachi isn’t paying attention, is enough to balance out the pain that a true loss would bring.
And if it isn’t…
Itachi sighs and tries to adjust his position. He ends up on his side with Shisui sprawled out along his back, still snoring happily. Itachi finally admits defeat and, in a fit of sentimentality, laces his fingers together with Shisui’s.
For now, at least, neither of them are going anywhere.