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Fish Stew

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The thing about the shark cannibalism speech was that it was reliable.

It had worked for him back when he was a loyal—ha!—shinobi of Kirigakure, and it worked just as well now that he was mingling in Akatsuki with the very lowest dregs of the Elemental Nations. Didn't matter how tough his new teammates thought they were, how many innocents they'd slaughtered or comrades they'd killed or towns they'd turned to rubble, there was something about I may have torn apart and eaten my siblings in the womb (and I might just do the same to you, if you're not careful) that got under the skin of every single person he'd ever met.

(Kisame had in fact eaten his twin in the womb, but in the very normal, very human, and very fucked-up way. Fetal reabsorption was far more gruesome in than embryophagy, in his opinion.)

It was the smile at the end that really did it. Pale eyes, serrated teeth, the fins on his cheekbones scrunched up just that little bit—it all made for an unsettling look. Kisame would never admit to practicing that smile in the mirror, but, well… he wouldn't insist he hadn'teither.

The point wasn't how much he'd worked at it, the point was that it worked. The speech was a quick and easy way to snap back at any new member looking to puff up their pride or their reputation by going after a former swordsman of the Mist. And, as a bonus, it was always hilarious watching battle-hardened shinobi jump when they saw him coming like they were a newly-graduated genin and he was their own personal bogeyman.

(He was well-aware his time in Kiri had left him with a rather twisted sense of humor. Didn't make it any less funny.)

Except. Except.

Except that there was a bowl of stew in his lap and a cup of tea on the ground next to him and a small blank-eyed teenager staring at him from over the rim of his own teacup.

“Is it not to your liking?” Itachi asked. He paused, taking a delicate sip, and then placed it back down on the ground. He made it look graceful somehow, like they were in the middle of a glamorous teahouse instead of sitting on the hard ground outside their tents somewhere in the middle of Lightning Country. “I apologize,” he added after a moment too long of Kisame's silence, “I wasn't sure what flavors you preferred.”

“No,” Kisame said blankly. “No, it's fine.” He wondered if he could pinch himself discreetly. Perhaps this was a genjutsu—kid had a sharingan, after all. “It's just… stew's more of an evening meal, isn't it? Never really had it for breakfast before.”

Itachi nodded once, as if he'd said something useful instead of completely fucking inane. “True. I didn't want to waste the meat, though.”

The meat… Kisame gave his bowl of a stew a sniff. He recognized the scent of the fish—he'd caught them yesterday while training in a nearby lake, hung them up mostly to brag a little bit. He hadn't realized Itachi would want to make use of them.

Practicality, huh? That was something he didn't often see in Konoha shinobi; living in the largest of the hidden villages, surrounded by fresh water and arable land, tended to make them wasteful. That particular quirk of theirs had helped Kisame out more than once on missions, but that didn't make it any less obnoxious.

Of course, that didn't exactly match with what he'd been told of the Uchiha; surely testing out his skills by murdering every member of his clan at once was the definition of wasteful. It would have been better to let a quarter or so live; that way he could come back occasionally, see if any new talent had cropped up. Pace his murdering sprees and all that.

Honestly, when Kisame thought about it, nothing he'd seen of Itachi so far matched the things he'd been told. His new partner was a walking mess of contradictions. It wasn't that he was polite; Kisame had met his fair share of incredibly polite and horrifically bloodthirsty psychopaths in his day. It wasn't that he was quiet, either, or that he knew how to cook.

No, the strangeness was in the tiny half-smile that flickered across his face when he mentioned Konoha, the still-living brother he steadfastly refused to mention, the way he trusted his fellow missing-nin enough to eat food made from ingredients Kisame had supplied.

(A shinobi hardened enough to slaughter infants in cold blood was a shinobi hardened enough not to blink when they saw a child begging on the streets, and yet—

Kisame had walked on by without a second glance. Itachi had stopped, pressed a handful of coins into the emaciated boy's hands, and ruffled his dark hair as if he were a kindly grandfather and not a known childkiller.)

He didn't know what it was—split personality, bloodline shit, a truly impressive level of denial—but Itachi was a sort of deeply fucked up he'd never encountered before.

Though, in fairness, maybe he was becoming just as warped as his partner, because he was pretty sure he was starting to find Itachi's little quirks endearing.

Itachi wasn't afraid of him. Not in the swaggering, egotistical, made-of-bravado-and-testosterone sort of way that Kisame was so used, but unafraid in a way that radiated trust. No one had ever really trusted Kisame, even before he'd gained his reputation as a comrade-killer; it wasn't the sort of emotion one could afford in Mist. The casual rapport that Itachi had so easily established was… manageable. Actually kind of nice, if he was being honest with himself.

Uchiha, he thought. Bunch of crazy bastards. Kisame wondered whether Itachi knew of Madara, then promptly decided that was a can of worms he didn't want to open. That clan—what was left of them—could deal with their own business. Kisame knew better than to get involved.

Still. Kisame took a sip from the stew, plucked out a chunk of fish and chomped down on it. The flavor was fresh and well-cooked—surprisingly flavorful for a campfire meal.

As unsettling and obviously unsustainable as this partnership was, he would go along with it for as long as he could.

If nothing else, the food was delicious.