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 Author’s Note: It’s been pretty quiet around here hasn’t it? Before I could go into withdrawal symptoms, my muse just had to spring this on me. Enjoy. I apologize for all the mistakes and characterization discrepancies.

Title: With Only the River as Witness
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: None
Summary: The rushing waters of the Nakano don't judge.


He’d been the one to call Itachi to meet him at the Nakano river, telling him that he had something important to announce. Itachi had tilted his head curiously but had done nothing else other than to agree. Now the sun was high in the sky, its harsh rays promising scorching temperatures as the day wore on. It was time, yet Shisui wasn’t sure if he could even go through with it. His nerves were buzzing and threatening to overcome him. He doesn’t even remember being this nervous when he was taking his first Chunin exam. Of course at the time he had been confident with Itachi at his side. He trusted his teammate and best friend with his life. He still does. The thought of confronting Itachi now, though, has his insides twisting with apprehension.

Shisui was so lost in his own thoughts, he was startled when he heard another set of footsteps join him. He whirled around, tensed to draw a kunai before he realized that it was only Itachi. Of course, it was Itachi. They had been going to the river together for so many years, he should have known that they would end up meeting as they traveled the same road out of habit. After all, this particular road had long ago been established as their preferred path. God he was a mess.

Itachi raised a surprised eyebrow at his response but did not question him as he fell into step with him. The act was familiar, but what should have been comfortable was noticeably strained. They traversed the well beaten path as a heavy silence descended upon them. All too soon they were upon the familiar banks of the Nakano river, the rushing current soothing some of his frazzled nerves as it drowned out some of the raging thoughts clamoring inside his throbbing skull. The fertile landscape was seeped with so many memories it had come to be a sort of sacred ground. He knew the river and its surrounding forest like a child knew the ins and outs of a beloved playground. It was a safe place where interaction with his best friend should have come naturally as it had for years, but now Shisui took small comfort in the fact. He should have picked a different place he thought wryly. He wanted to keep this beautiful scenery pristine in his memories and now it would be tainted by the toxicity of the ensuing fall out.

Shisui took a deep breath before turning to face him and gasped. Itachi was staring directly at him, his dark cobalt eyes piercing and unblinking. He felt as if he was being burned. Shisui quickly dropped his gaze.

“What is it that you wish to tell me?” Itachi’s smooth voice sliced through the silence, washing over him. How typical of Itachi to get straight to the point. Shisui wasn’t ready, but he had to do this.

“I...Itachi, I called you here, I mean the reason is because I really had to tell you−” He choked on his words. His throat seemed to close in on itself, constricting and forcing the words to burn like acid as they ate the end of each syllable fighting to come out.

“What is it Shisui? You are aware that you can tell me anything, correct?” Itachi coaxed patiently but not unkindly.

That’s the problem. I’m afraid this time might be the last.

His gaze flickered instinctively. Itachi face revealed nothing but infinite calm, curiosity, and a hint of something else he could not identify. But there is no judgment or scorn. Not yet anyways.

Shisui tried again. “I wanted to tell you... Itachi, you’ve been my best friend since as long as I can remember...I, towards you...” He swallowed his words again. Frustration battled with fear of the impending consequences of unleashing the poison poised at the tip of his tongue.

Oh god, how did he ever think he could do this?

“Shisui?” Itachi took a small step towards him, his face highlighted with concern. Shisui felt himself retreat a few paces like a cornered animal. He never wanted to see those features twisted in anger or disgust. Or worse rejection. He doesn’t think he could bear it.

Shisui is already in the water before Itachi can try and stop him. He distantly registers the sound of Itachi shouting at him but the water just feels so good as it washes over him. It feels like home. Here, he can escape from his rising awareness of his best friends’ presence that has been festering as the seasons past. It’s coming to the point of becoming unbearable. On numerous occasions it has left both himself and Itachi confused in moments of vulnerable clarity that are buried under the ensuing scramble to preserve their fragile equilibrium. Sometimes he wants to shout and scream, to shake him by the shoulders to make him understand. He’s scared by the intensity of his own desires and he wonders how Itachi can be so oblivious. Or is he resolutely ignoring the tension between them with the determination that Shisui both adores and loathes? Either way he’s glad that Itachi always forgives him for his bouts of frustrated silence, that he seems content to return to the easy rhythm of their friendship. But how long could he go on like this? He feels like he’s falling off the precipice of some precarious ledge, like solidifying amber is filling up his lungs until he’s paralyzed with fear. The smallest of catalysts will be enough to tip the balance and shatter what he’s always known.

Shisui lets the rush of water in his ears drown his clashing thoughts, acquiescing to the river’s comforting familiarity. He’s come here countless times throughout his life, more often than not in the company of his best friend. Lately though, he’s been diving into its depths in quiet desperation as he flees from the impending rejection and revulsion once Itachi finds out his growing feelings towards him. Itachi is his cousin, which is not as much of a problem in the Uchiha family as one would think. However, the fact that Itachi is his male cousin is a very big problem indeed. Ingrained propriety dictates that such thoughts, such feelings, especially for a shinobi are not only sinful but dangerous. Yet he can’t help what he is feeling. He does not know when “appropriate” and “safe” affection for his best friend evolved into something more, when a curious ache became a constant fire roaring through every fiber of his being. By the time he had an inkling of what it was and stepped back he was already unable to distinguish the entangled lines of their symbiotic life to find the moment of origin.

It will be the destruction of the friendship he holds so dear and any positive opinions his estranged family has towards him. He wants to drown in the Nakono’s depths to escape the asphyxiation of his reality. He loses himself within the glassy world beneath the surface again and again because the constant waters of the Nakano do not judge. Here the waters wash over him like a baptism, washing away the embarrassment and sins of the feelings threatening to consume him.

He relaxes into the current as it caresses his skin and sweeps away the bubbles of air emerging from his mouth, watching as the sand beneath him shifts. He lets it carry him as he remains in a suspended state of turmoil.

He is in the midst of gathering his thoughts when the sight of the swaying reeds conceding to the force of the current make him realize that he could be swept away. He hadn’t realized that he had been steadily moving towards the deeper parts of the river where he his feet did not touch the bottom. The sensation of losing his bearings sends a jolt of adrenaline through his body. He can feel himself yielding to the river despite the efforts of his experienced strokes.

The current is like a living entity that is determined to wrapped its watery manacles around his ankles and drag him into the dark abyss. The once comforting lull sounds like a dark, insidious promise to his heightened senses. Stay here Shisui, the water seems to be saying. It sounds like a mother speaking to a lost child. Let go of your troubles and let me comfort you. The current wraps around him like a cocoon.

Shisui screws his eyes shut to block out the noise. Panic seizes his lungs briefly and locks his muscles, making him gasp. Precious bubbles of air drift away to the glassy surface. Even under the rush of water overhead he hears Itachi’s frantic voice as it screams his name. He instinctively reaches for the voice, his legs kicking with dwindling strength even as the strong current refuses to relinquish its hold on him. His burning lungs are nothing compared the pain of hearing that precious voice laced with such distress and he would do anything to soothe it away. With one last desperate surge, he breaks the surface.

Shisui greedily gulps lungfuls of air even as he continues to swallow mouthfuls of the relentless water that crashes into him. The disorientation threatens to bring him under again but then he’s there. Itachi’s strong grip is around him as he swims towards the safety of the river bank. The moment his knees hit solid ground, he doubles over in pain as he wretches up the river water.

Itachi is by his side looking incredibly distraught and his hands are trembling as he forms the seals for a quick Kanton. He puts a bit too much chakra into it but doesn’t pay any attention to the lack of finesse in the execution of his jutsu when he hears the reassuring crackling of the damp twigs yielding to the flames. Then Itachi’s hands are returning to rest on his arm while he finishes hacking up his lungs and gasping for breath. The moment the adrenaline begins to fade, Shisui registers the fact that Itachi is clutching his drenched form like a drowning man as he chants his name like a mantra through his quiet relieved sobs.

“I thought I lost you,” Itachi whispers in a shaky voice.

Shisui returns the embrace, “I’m sorry. Itachi, I’m so sorry, I’ll never scare you like that again.”

“Don’t go beyond where I can reach. Please.”

“I promise.” He continues to soothe him as he murmurs promises of comfort.

Itachi’s quiet plea reminds Shisui of their childhood days when he used to hold him when he was afraid. With startling clarity, he recalls Itachi’s vulnerable expression when he had left for his first day at the academy while Itachi stood at the entrance. He had looked so alone. Those were the days when he did not hide his humanity for the sake of duty, honor, or propriety. Less than six months later Itachi entered the academy as its youngest student, his conviction manifested even at such a young age in his determination to stay by Shisui’s side. They had never parted since. The memory is one of many instances in which Itachi had reaffirmed that he, and he alone, was privy to his constant friendship, his vulnerability, and his life.

They were two saplings from the same soil, both of them reaching towards the bright sun. They had developed in leaps and bounds, reaching impossible heights as the canopy of their accomplishments reached wide and far to the envy of the others. Instead of overshadowing one another as they grew, they stood side by side, as faithful as two sturdy trees protecting and supporting one another. Over the years the bond nurtured between them had only become stronger.

His brush with death makes him realize he could lose everything if he leaves lets this chance slip from his grasp. What would he have to gain from drowning himself with his own insecurity? If Itachi had shown such trust in him, should he not trust him in return? He remembers the Nakano, and how it carves its own path through the land with its swift current. Could he have such strength? Could he accept the current of emotion possessing him or would he fight it only to be drowned? He goes for the plunge.

“I was afraid of what you would think if I told you I love you, Itachi.” His sudden declaration is barely more than a whisper and as it is almost swallowed by the sounds of the river.

Itachi’s eyes widen but Shisui can’t read the emotions swirling through their dark depths. He’s afraid to find out but he plows onward, regardless. The words tumble out before he can stop them.

“I’m afraid that if this ever got out it would ruin you. That this would ruin us. I’m so fucking scared that- ”

Itachi cuts him off abruptly, “Shisui, I knew that you were an idiot, but not to this extent.”

What the hell is that supposed to mean? He’s not sure if he’s supposed to feel hurt or something else because the next thing he knows Itachi is yanking him by his drenched shirt and crushing their lips together. Shisui is absolutely stunned but quickly responds. He tries to convey everything he is feeling through the kiss in case he comes to his senses only to find that this is some delusion brought upon by his near drowning. Itachi leans towards him slightly and Shisui tenses, an unrational fear of being pushed away rising up in him. Instead Itachi leans closer as he tilts his head to deepen the kiss, placing his trust within the one person who has never failed to catch him before. His heart soars at the prospect, threatening to beat right out of his chest as it pulses in time to a scarcely dared hope.

He pulls away from the kiss slowly while cradling Itachi’s face lovingly and savoring the moment. The warm puffs of air on his neck as Itachi catches his breath causes Shisui’s own labored breath to hitch. Itachi’s quiet whisper of his name brings him back.

“Shisui...you’re such an idiot,” he repeats softly but there is affection in his tone.

He lets out an answering rush of breath as he opens his eyes to a sight that leaves him speechless. Itachi’s earnest gaze mirrors his own as they convey longing, adoration, and understanding.

“Are you sure you’re alright with this?” Is it alright to love you? Shisui honestly doesn’t know what to call it. He sure as hell doesn’t know where it will lead them.

“Since when did I ever care what other people think? I thought you knew me better than this,” Itachi chastised softly. “I am not such a fool to throw away our friendship over such a matter. Especially, if this is something I also desire.”

Shisui could only look at him in wonder. The heat radiating from the precious person within his arm, the realization that his feelings were mutual- it was all real. As if to apologize for Shisui’s long and difficult crusade with his feelings, Itachi bestowed a small kiss on the corner of the lips of his knight before he continued. “Do you not remember when you befriended me in the first place? I recall you said something along the lines of ‘hey, lone ranger we should stick together because it looks like it’s you and me kid,’” Itachi’s face is twisted in disbelief at the embarrassing words pouring from his mouth and he burrows his face in Shisui’s chest to hide his mortification. Shisui doesn’t miss the small smile.

“Oh god, that sounds like a really cheesy pick up line,” Shisui groans even as he grins crookedly.

“Well it seems to have worked. You were always such the charmer.” Itachi’s breathless laugh warms him more than the fire next to them. “It’s one of the things I love about you.” The words are whispered tenderly into the hollow of his neck.

His heart is beating a mile a minute at the quiet admission. Shisui’s holds him closer, breathing in Itachi’s scent. He feels like a great weight has been lifted off of his shoulders and carried downstream. Itachi’s words make him realize that even after all this time, there is still so much to learn and feel. What was once a budding feeling within his chest that has held a constant but suppressed awareness has exploded into something all consuming. It rushes through the blood pounding in his veins and the hum of thoughts crowding his head. His very consciousness sings in joy at the fulfillment of something he once wished for so desperately but thought impossible. It’s always been there, these feelings of love towards his best friend and cousin. The thought of exploring the newfound realization of their growing feelings fills him with both warmth and anticipation. He is longer afraid of the inevitable judgment of outside world that dictates that this is wrong. Because here by the banks of the Nakano with Itachi by his side, this moment is simply beautiful. He strokes his thumb under Itachi’s eye affectionately, filled with the conviction that they will undoubtedly continue traversing the well worn paths of the village alongside the constant Nakano river as they continue their journey towards adulthood together. He feels like they have all the time in the world. Beside them, the rushing waters of the river ripples in euphoric felicitation. Satisfied and content, Shisui doesn’t resist the urge to lean in and capture his lips again.

The distant buzz of the pressing summer heat and the glittering waters of Nakano river bear witness to their exchange as all the pieces of their friendship and the years of dancing around one another finally bloom into something more.

--------
A/N: God, I am such a sap. You can tell I can’t write romance or dialogue to save my life because most of my story ideas come to me in the moments when I either am about to slip off to blessed unconsciousness or when I’m not even fully awake. Not exactly conducive to lucid thought if you know what I mean.

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