It’s been a long day.
The shadows are low and wide by the time they make it back to the hideout. It’s a red kind of twilight, burning over the trees’ leaves and hanging heavy under the clouds, smelling of oncoming rain more than fresh air. The cave that Itachi and Kisame have taken as refuge for the expedition always smells of humidity, but tonight the scent is stronger, clinging to skin and cloth.
Kisame doesn’t mind it. His body is made for this type of weather—is made for water, truly, rather than open land. But Itachi can feel that the dampness on his skin is due to sweat as much as the naturally wet rocks around. Despite the cold, he feels overheated.
“Wanna take the first turn at the river?” Kisame asks him. He doesn’t sound tired at all.
“If you don’t mind,” Itachi replies mildly.
All he gets as an answer is the sound of Samehada hitting the ground.
Itachi takes what he needs from the rucksack he brought and walks out of the cave once more.
The river is more of a stream, really. It’s a three-minute walk to reach it, deep under the canopy of the forest. The trees are dense and close together, only making enough way for it that he can see a strip of red sky when he has his feet in the water. Itachi makes the walk in five minutes rather than three, and when he takes off his clothes and starts washing himself, he doesn’t look up.
The water is icy. Kisame doesn’t mind the cold and Itachi usually keeps his own body warm with jutsu; today, however, he doesn’t think it’s the best idea. He bears with the temperature until he’s as clean as he can get without a shower stall at his disposal, runs water and soap through his hair until most of the grime is gone, and dries himself quickly.
He doesn’t bother hiding himself behind a genjutsu either. The most menacing thing around is his partner, and Kisame is utterly disinterested in spying on him.
The walk back is a little quicker. He doesn’t feel refreshed so much as chilly now, but he thinks he’ll sleep well if given some silence. That should be enough to restore him for the next day and for the way back to Akatsuki.
“All done?” Kisame asks when he gets back.
Itachi nods. Kisame makes a noise of appreciation as he walks by him and out into the open. The twenty minutes or so it took for Itachi to wash himself have darkened the sky and made the first stars prick out between clouds. Itachi can’t see them very well, and when Kisame reaches the first trees, black clothes on black shadows, it’s as if he’s disappeared entirely.
Kisame will take a longer time than him, he knows. His partner will regret that the stream is only deep enough to reach his knees, making swimming impossible, but he’ll still probably lay in the cold water until he can stop using the poor excuse for human lungs that he has and simply let his gills do the work. Itachi has seen him do it before. Kisame doesn’t care about people catching him unaware, because he lives with the default that he’s stronger than any who could wish him harm.
He’s right, Itachi thinks. For the most part.
Itachi hasn’t put his hitai-ate back on. He takes it out of the rucksack and lays it on the ground next to him, finger tracing the long cut in it.
He doesn’t realize that he’s fallen asleep until Kisame is shaking his shoulder.
His heart falls for the barest second. His tongue feels frozen in his mouth, his throat cold all throughout. The inhale he takes feels like ice in his chest.
“That’s unusual of you,” Kisame says once Itachi’s eyes finally open. He can barely see anything, and tension running through his spine and locking his jaw in place, but if Kisame notices, he doesn’t say anything. “I caught a couple fish. Don’t mind sharing, if you’re up for that. Just light us a fire.”
It takes a couple seconds too long for Itachi to answer. “Thank you.”
Kisame turns his back to him with no comment for the fact that never before has Itachi fallen asleep with no one to keep watch.
The wood Kisame brought back is dry enough that a simple fire jutsu lights it. Itachi stays in the same position, back entirely stuck to the wet wall and heart beating steadily in his chest. His blood feels frozen and he doesn’t know how to speak. He thinks, faintly, that it’s a good thing no one is counting on him for spying anymore.
His hair is mostly dry now. He reaches behind his ear to gather it at his nape, but his fingers are numb from fatigue and from the river still, and the tie slips, falls between his back and the wall, low enough that he can’t reach it like this. Itachi pushes himself away from it with one hand.
He can’t see the tie anymore. It’s entirely lost against the dark rocks walling the cave.
He does see Kisame’s hand reach for the floor next to him to grab it, though. Kisame says, handing it over: “You really overdid it today.”
Itachi takes the tie. He’s so cold that even Kisame’s fingers feel warm in comparison. “It was necessary,” he replies.
“Didn’t say it wasn’t.”
Kisame looks at him blankly for a moment longer. Itachi is close enough to see most of his face, however blurry, but he doesn’t think he’d be able to read what the other is thinking even with perfect eyesight. Kisame is very good at only showing what he wants to show.
Such actor’s skills have always been a source of envy for as long as he’s known Kisame. Itachi didn’t really grow up with the opportunity to hone more than the ability not to feel.
He doesn’t jump when Kisame reaches behind him to take hold of his hair, but he can’t talk either. He’s too cold to shiver and too tired as well, so when Kisame says, “Let me help with that,” Itachi doesn’t protest.
It’s a bad idea. But he doesn’t say no.
Kisame’s fingers aren’t kind to his hair. They aren’t made of soft human skin but rather of a tough variant, not scales but not far from them, the product of experiments that Kisame never mentions. They get tangled in the still-damp locks and tug harshly on Itachi’s scalp, and Kisame likely has never done this before, either, because it takes him twice as long as Itachi to simply manage to tie most of it in.
Kisame’s never done this before. Never tied someone’s hair, never touched someone’s hair with anything but the will to tear it off the person’s head.
Six years spent in each other’s presence have made it so Itachi isn’t surprised by much of what Kisame does. He’s cruel in battle but extremely composed. Carefree but careful. Incredibly strong, incredibly proud, incredibly aware of it. He’s never intruded on Itachi’s space or his secrets, even though Itachi suspects that Kisame knows more than he lets on.
He’s never touched Itachi like this.
And Itachi is aware that this isn’t affection so much as kindness offered from a strange place; he knows Kisame doesn’t like him. Still, he can’t help but remember the last time someone did touch his hair with affection.
He will never forget Mikoto’s face for as long as he lives, but he has forgotten her touch. Through Kisame’s rough handling, he thinks he can remember it.
Kisame tugs the tie up higher, and Itachi winces, leaning back to lessen the tension. In the moment that follows he feels Kisame’s hands go gentle, dropping their hold on him quickly and brushing against his nape.
In that one suspended second, neither of them moves. Kisame’s hard finger stays where Itachi’s neck meets his shoulder, in the opening of his collar, warm on his cold skin.
“Sorry for the mess,” Kisame says behind him. Itachi feels him push himself upright, as tall as he can go without hitting his head on the low ceiling of the cave. When he walks around him and around the fire, it is with neutrality on his face and only the glow of physical hunger in his eyes.
Itachi breathes out. The goosebumps in his neck disappear.
“Those fishes’re coming along nicely.” Kisame rotates the stick on which their food is impaled, and the smell hits Itachi’s nose then, making his stomach twist. He hasn’t eaten since morning and used a lot of energy since.
“We’re supposed to report back to Pain in two days,” Itachi murmurs. “We’ll need to be on the road early.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s not like there’s anything pressing at the moment. He can handle us being a few hours late.”
Kisame doesn’t say anything about Itachi’s condition for the rest of the evening. He eats his food, running his leather-like fingers over Samehada’s scales like someone else might a cat’s fur. He never mentions the way Itachi leaned back into his touch or the way his own finger lingered at Itachi’s nape, not affectionate but still kind, as if waiting for Itachi to compose himself before letting time continue its course.
Itachi doesn’t feel cold from the river anymore, and it’s not because of the fire, and it’s not because of the food.