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the name of the game

Chapter Text

Miyu’s always been able to see it.

The shifting of pieces, moves, countermoves. The board, a microcosm of the complex world they live in.

The men she faces are usually traditional. Some are aggressive, some not so much. All defensive if they get an inkling that she might attack.

She reads the board, her opponent’s faces, the time ticking away as they make their moves.

Miyu is fifteen when she plays against the best shogi player in the elemental nations for the first time.

She suffers a loss against him, and it’s not surprising, truly. Makishima Toru, thirty-eight, has played shogi since he was four, and has faced many aspiring champions without faltering.

She cries her heart out in the carriage home because it felt like she validated the swarms of people calling her a fluke, a mistake, worthless.

She’s nineteen when she faces him again.

Nineteen when she becomes the best player in the elemental nations.

Nineteen, thinking she’s ready to hold that mantle upon her shoulders. And she does, for a time.

But Miyu had been so blissfully unaware that it was just the beginning of an entirely different game.

.

The ninja are from Konoha.

Miyu reads it in the engraved insignia they each hold close to their person. Hears it in their friendly, professional tone. Catches wafts of it on the faint traces of greenery scented like Hashirama leaves that drifts to her from their clothes.

Most of all, she observes it in the four ninja’s movement as one unit.

Teamwork.

Konoha is famous for the bonds they share with their own. Other villages try to mock them for it, for being the soft ones, but Miyu thinks it makes them anything but.

Her most effective plays revolve around using her pieces together to corner opponents, or wrestle her way out of a seemingly inescapable pin.

That - and Miyu thinks that there is nothing quite so persevering as the need to protect those you love. She’s seen it in the mothers who lift collapsed beams off their children. In fathers who bloody their fists against their daughter’s attackers.

Friends, who push each other out of harms way, or carry someone sick to the hospital, or – or –

Or stand, giving you their backs as they stop those who would hurt you with their own body.

“Sugawara-san,” one of them has stepped forward, his long straight hair pulled into a low ponytail. “I will be leading the team as we escort you to the tournament in Hidden Waterfall.”

Her gaze flits over his fine features, the straight line of his shoulders, the effortless poise with which he bows politely. Clan born, then.

“My name is Uchiha Itachi, and these are my teammates, Nara Shikamaru, Uchiha Shisui, and Aburame Shino.”

Miyu offers a polite smile and bows to him deeply, taking a brief moment to check that her kimono is in place perfectly.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Uchiha-sama,” she says softly as she rises. His dark eyes flicker over her face and she knows she’s surprised him despite his perfect lack of outward emotion.

“Please,” he says, the same polite tone to his voice as her, “there is no need for such formalities, Sugawara-san. I am here as a ninja of Konoha and nothing more.”

Ah, she thinks. Clan heir or close to it, then. Miyu appreciates his attempts at brushing the address off, but as she lets her gaze fall across the rest of the team she realises they have sent more men of great importance.

“Nara-sama,” she murmurs as she bows low once again, “Aburame-sama.”

They each bow in turn, less deeply than she had, of course. Her eyes land on the last member of their group. He’s grinning, body language relaxed and informal.

“Uchiha-san,” she greets, bowing just a fraction less deeply than she had for the heirs.

“Aw, pretty miss, you wound me!” He steps forward, extending a hand to shake. “Nothing for me?”

Miyu reaches out carefully, noting the callouses on his scarred hands and showing none of her amusement on her face.

“Forgive me if I am wrong,” she offers a small placating smile here, “but you are not a clan heir, Uchiha-san.”

His grin widens and he holds her hand in place for a moment.

“How could you tell?”

There’s another question lurking beneath the surface, laced gently with a threat.

She presses her lips together for a moment, just enough to let him know she understands what he’s really insinuating. He has the grace to let his smile turn mildly apologetic.

“Uchiha-sama is too well spoken to be anything but,” she says after a pause, “Nara-sama and Aburame-sama resemble their fathers greatly.”

At this the Nara’s mouth quirks down into an unhappy line. The Aburame doesn’t shift to show any emotion.

“My father complained for a week that a fourteen year old girl with no formal training bested him.”

That prompts a laugh from her and Miyu withdraws her hand to cover her mouth.

“Yes,” she nods, “extend my apologies to him again, will you?”

The team captain is looking at her, blank faced. The other Uchiha is grinning again as he casts a furtive glance to his fellow clansman. The Aburame is frustratingly difficult to read behind his high collar and sunglasses.

And the Nara – the Nara steps forward, and bows again.

“It is an honour to meet you, Sugawara-san.”

Miyu has learnt not to be taken aback by these kinds of displays, even though they make her uncomfortable. A marvel, most would say, because she’s a young woman world dominated by men.

“The sentiment is returned, Nara-sama.”

She meets the Uchiha heir’s eyes, appreciatively noting the long lashes that frame them, and lets the carefully polite posturing ebb from her face and shoulders.

When she speaks there’s warmth to her tone.

“Shall we?”

.

The Uchiha heir is intriguing. He lacks arrogance and the high-bred bias that so often poisons many of her interactions with others. He’s professional, exceptionally quick witted, respectful, and most of all – kind.

It catches her off guard, to be truthful.

Her dinner, already warmed between his palms with a beautiful display of fire techniques by the time she steps out of the carriage.

The clearings he chooses for the night, without much dirt and with grass just short enough to keep her hem from getting stained.

A fire built to smoke as little as possible, blazing with gentle heat that doesn’t stifle her in her many layers.

And when she retires to bed, a tent made up to be warm in the evening, layers of blankets on the ground to soften her resting place.

The bottle of water, small bag of fruit, and her bag of toiletries already within.

These little things charm her more than sweet words or a handsome face ever could.

Not that he isn’t. Handsome, of course.

“Thank you,” she says to him as he helps her into the carriage after their second night camping out.

He tilts his head to the side, and she admires the neat lines of his face as the morning sun filters onto them through the canopy.

“You have been kind to me,” she smiles, and it’s perhaps the first genuine one she’s given any of them along their journey. “So thank you, Uchiha-sama.”

“Itachi,” he says suddenly, voice just a little too loud. “Please,” he drops the volume, seemingly embarrassed, “call me Itachi. Uchiha-sama is my father.”

She laughs and gives his hand the slightest of squeezes before she steps up into the carriage.

“As you wish, Itachi-sama.”

She hears the other Uchiha cackle loudly from the front of the wagon, and bemoans the moment it takes to turn and sit. She had wanted to watch the slight array of emotions that she knows would have glinted through Itachi’s eyes.

“Then,” he says after she’s settled, “may I call you Miyu-san?”

His gaze meets hers and she lets her guard drop for just a moment as she appreciates how handsome he is.

“Certainly.”

He gives her a small, pleased smile, and closes the door to the carriage.

Outside she can hear the other Uchiha laughing again, accompanied by a low grumble from the Nara.

That evening the Nara approaches her.

He’s not displaying much of anything on his face, but the slight twitch of his shoulders lets her know he’s most definitely nervous.

“Sugawara-san,” he begins, fingers twiddling with a scroll at his belt. “I was thinking – well I was hoping, rather, that you might – that we might-”

“Nara-sama,” Miyu says from where she’s seated on a log, basking in the late afternoon sunlight. “Would you like to play a game of shogi?”

In an instant there’s a small pop and a puff of smoke, and a shogi set is in the ninja’s hands. Miyu startles - it’s enough to almost send her toppling from her seat, but a warm, steady hand lands between her shoulder blades to stop her.

“A sealing scroll,” Itachi’s voice comes from behind her. “He carries that board with him everywhere he goes.”

Miyu looks up at Itachi, smiling, “Perhaps you’ll honour me with a game after Nara-sama?”

Itachi’s hand lingers on her back, feather light.

“I would like that very much,” he murmurs, and then leaves to do whatever ninja business he has to do.

Another puff of smoke – it doesn’t startle Miyu this time – and she smothers a laugh because the Nara has packed a blanket, pillows, and a table.

He sets them up quickly, with precise movements that speak of practice. And then he stands and waits for her.

She approaches the blanket. Bows to him shortly, and takes her seat. He sits opposite her, looking stiff and uncomfortable in seiza.

Carefully, she unpacks the board and the pieces, and they begin.

.

When Itachi returns just under an hour later, it’s to Shikamaru slumped on a blanket beside a set shogi table, and Miyu-san sipping inconspicuously at a steaming cup of tea while Shisui howls with laughter.

Wariness fills him as he takes his seat opposite her. Shikamaru sits up and focuses on the board with furious determination.

Miyu beats Itachi in half an hour.

He stares at the board between them, Sharingan activated to burn the pieces into his memory.

“Thank you for the game, Itachi-sama,” Miyu is still sitting in perfect seiza as she bows to him gracefully.

His eyes are drawn to the delicate slope of her neck, her brown hair as it falls over her shoulder to swing before her. Her eyes meet his, and he watches her breath catch at the sight of them. Still, he can’t force himself to stop the flow of chakra.

She’s beautiful. Not just the gentle lines of her face, the soft scent that follows her every move, or even the clever brown eyes that observe and understand so much.

Every careful movement, each measured action, it’s like watching a moving piece of art. One that smiles genuinely only rarely, whose laugh makes something in his gut swoop low. The flutter of her lashes, the slightest blush across her high cheekbones, and Itachi has to force his attention elsewhere.

It’s not the first time he’s been distracted by something beautiful. Still, he lets himself indulge. Just a little.

“Why don’t you play us all?” Shisui suggests, “Not Shino, he’s on watch right now – but us three, Sugawara-san?”

She raises a delicate brow, “There’s only one board.”

Shisui turns his expectant gaze to Shikamaru.

“Ah…” begins the Nara sheepishly, “I have a few spares handy.”

The only inkling that Miyu is taken aback is a single slow blink.

“Well, it’s not quite late yet,” she acknowledges, “if Itachi-sama and Nara-sama wish, I would be happy to oblige.”

.

Shikamaru frowns down at his board. Shogi is an art that has taken him years to learn. And he likes to think – well he thought – he was rather good at it.

The games between he and his father go for at least two hours now.

As far as he knows, both Itachi and Shisui are no slouches either.

The Uchiha, as with most clans and merchants in Konoha, teach their children shogi as soon as they’re old enough to sit seiza. Strategy and poise, and tradition, most of all.

Shisui – well, he may play the grinning fool at times but Shikamaru won’t forget that he was a child genius, promoted to jounin at fourteen and deserving of every moniker given to him.

And yet.

Sugawara Miyu cuts through their defences with her small, steady hands. Three games, three mismatched boards, and not a slip. Not a single moment of weakness or indecision.

He watches her clean up – first Itachi, then Shisui, and finally him.

“You’re a genius,” he breathes, studying Shisui and Itachi’s boards in wonder as they cast Sharingan-red eyes over his board in turn.

“I could say the same for you, Nara-sama,” she placates in that ever-polite tone, reminding him of his status and humbling herself in one breath.

He may only be eighteen, but Shikamaru understands that the woman kneeling before him arms herself with courtesies in the way that often only the highborn do.

“You flatter me,” he says, shaking his head, “I didn’t stand a chance.”

“Come now,” she begins to gather the pieces with those pale, graceful hands. “Your first thirty-four moves were solid. Caution took that game from you more than I.”

Her fingers rearrange the pieces on the board, and she points with a slender finger at his general.

“Here,” she says, “your forty-sixth move.”

She remembers the board. Holy shit, she remembers every single move.

“You held back, fortified your defence,” she points to his bishop on the other side of the board, “you could have launched an attack – backed it up with your knight, and here-”

She shifts the pieces around as she had indicated, and suddenly Shikamaru witnesses his seemingly dire position change. The board opens up, broadening her area of focus in a way he hadn’t thought could be done that far into the midgame.

“Amazing,” he breathes again.

“Do me, do me!” Shisui is practically vibrating with excitement beside him. Shikamaru watches in awe as she retraces the game move by move, instigates careful, clever attacks on her own pawns that might have helped them hold out against her.

“That was… fun,” she murmurs once Shikamaru has cuffed Shisui over the head to get him to shut up. “I would be glad to join you in play again Nara-sama, Uchiha-san, Itachi-sama.” She nods her head respectfully to each of them in turn.

“Don’t tell Shikamaru that,” snorts Shisui, rubbing against the back of his head, “the stamina of a ninja and the shogi obsession of a Nara is something to behold.”

She huffs out a small laugh, accepting the bowl of rice and sautéed beef that Itachi has been meticulously preparing over the fire in the twenty minutes it’s taken to break down Shisui’s match.

“Thank you,” she says, the fine dusting of pink across her cheekbones the only sign of Shikamaru’s observed magnetism between the shogi player and Itachi.  

Sasuke’s older brother has always been difficult to read. But here, away from the prying eyes of Konoha’s gossip mill, Shikamaru watches as the Clan Heir softens his reactions. Just enough for civilian eyes to catch the emotion in his gaze, hear the uncharacteristic rasp to his tone, feel the touches that he lets linger when they cross paths.

It’s enchanting. Like watching two exotic birds dance in a pattern only they know.

But Shikamaru finds himself wondering at Itachi’s actions. As the Heir to the Uchiha, he has been betrothed since he was nine.

What the hell is he playing at?

.

Miyu enters the room at a steady, calm pace. Two of her escorts are seated in the front row behind her, and she assumes the other two are doing a perimeter check.

It makes her feel better – a Konoha contingent is a statement from the land of Fire to the Waterfall Village. Three clan heirs, and a supposed legend.

She settles into seiza, facing the door as the higher ranked player, and waits for her opponent to take their seat.

Ito Mamaru, thirty-two. Resident shogi champion of Waterfall. A wife, two young children, and the expectations of an ambitious Kage on his shoulders.

To beat the current elemental champion, who happens to belong to Fire, which, as it happens, hosts perhaps the strongest Hidden Village the world has seen?

This is an opportunity the Kage of Waterfall would be loathe to miss.

They bow to one another respectfully, and Miyu begins unpacking the pieces. The room, aside from the clinking of shogi tiles and the breathing of its many occupants, is silent.

Miyu takes a moment to settle herself. Schools her face into careful politeness as she extends a hand and begins organising her opening.

Here, she is calm. Here, she is in control. Here, she is Miyu.

They begin.

Between turns, the pieces shift and the board blurs as her mind scrambles the game, breaking down the strategy in an orderly chaos.

Soon the line opens up, and with each of Ito’s captured pieces the probability of victory inches closer until her horizon is clear of obstacles and the chance of winning is no longer a chance.

He hasn’t seen it yet.

Probably won’t, not for another six moves.

Miyu plays them carefully anyway, and offers her opponent the respect of her follow through. He will want no pity.

It concludes, as she expected, in six moves.

For a minute – and then two, and then three, Ito stares at the board. She can see the moment it registers so clearly.

The slight downturn to his narrow lips. His nostrils flaring as he inhales deeply, trying to keep it slow and absent of panic. The slight tightening of the skin around his eyes. A slight sheen of sweat on his temple.

Two years ago this had been her. Hands trembling beneath the table as Makishima destroyed her in the final round of the championships.

She’d kept her composure, just barely. Hung on, all nails and teeth and bone deep desperation because she couldn’t cry - couldn’t falter, not in front of anyone. No, they wanted her to shake, wanted her to cry, to lose herself in the frustration of a loss.

But she could not. Would not.

They want her to fail. Want to be proven right about women being frail, fickle things with no place in the game that is now her domain.

They will not see her bleed.

Finally Ito bows.

Miyu bows back, a fraction shallower.

She rises, and the audience follow. They bow to her, and she to them, but she is not fooled.

These men hate her. Oh, they still bow low, but gods, their eyes burn with righteous fury to see a woman in the place of high respect. The absence of proper recognition from the shogi association is the little bit of vindictiveness they cling to, their proof that she is worthless

Miyu keeps her shoulders level and her steps even as she walks from the playing hall, her escorts hot on her heels.

“Brilliant,” Shikamaru leans in, the word meant for her ears only.

She smiles privately, and continues leading the way back to their inn.

.

“Thank you,” Miyu smiles to the Aburame as he hands her another warm cup of sake.

“You are welcome.”

She’s used to the monotonous voice by now, and catches the slight upturn at the end of his reply. Happy, then. Or perhaps, genuine?

She brushes off the observation and indulges in her fourth cup. Another victory, so she thinks she’s earned it.

“Miyu-san,” Itachi’s smooth tone sends a tingle of pleasure rolling down her chest. “May I ask you something?”

Ignoring the urge to point out that he has already done that, she nods and takes a bite from the green tea mochi they’d bought that morning in Waterfall.

“How did you become the best?” His dark eyes watch her from the other end of the log she’s seated on.

“I read your file,” Shikamaru speaks up from the other side of the fire before she can reply. “What little there is in it, at least. You’re not a clan kid, and the school you went to didn’t have a shogi club. Or even a shogi book.”

Smiling into the rim of her cup, she takes a sip and then lowers it slowly. They wait patiently for her answer.

“I learnt,” she says, tasting sake and mochi on her tongue, “from the grocer down the street when I was eight.”

There silence around the campfire. She can feel eyes on her, heavy – taking in every breath, every movement.

“We sat on milk crates behind his counter. In between customers, he explained the pieces. The strategies.”

She smiles and it’s almost wistful. 

“I started beating him by the time I was nine. He kicked me out of his store and told me to find real competitions to play in. Sent me along with as many books on strategy as he could afford.”

Her gaze drops to her hands, smooth and pale. Small.

“I didn’t have enough money for the first one.  So I went to small street tournaments – at nine, just a girl, and bet money I didn’t have on games against men three times my age.”

She lets out a long, slow breath.

“I won them. I made enough to join official tournaments, and I started winning those, too.”

She thinks of prize money, the stunned faces of her opponents. No one had called it a fluke because you just can’t fluke against the calibre of players she had faced.

“What about school?” The Nara asks, and the raw interest in his tone catches her off guard.

“Oh, I skipped,” she says, half laughing, “not many people cared if a no name civilian didn’t come to class or not. Besides,” she shrugs, “the capital isn’t like the hidden villages. I was a girl born to poor parents. Worth less to them than a nanny goat, or a pair of chickens.”

She shrugs, watching the firelight flicker in the depths of her cup. “To some, I’m still worth that – champion or not.”

They don’t stiffen. They’re ninja, and broadcasting their emotions isn’t something they do. But the air grows heavy at her words, nonetheless.

“How’d you get so good?” Asks Shisui, serious for perhaps the first time since she met him.

Here, Miyu hesitates, sake and sugar hot in her veins.

“At night,” she says, lifting her gaze to stare into the fire, “when my father was busy beating my mother senseless on the other side of my door, I’d look up at my ceiling.”

She can remember it so clearly. The ratty, paper-thin walls. Her lumpy, threadbare futon. The small, battered dresser in the corner. Her window, cracked and rickety, making a rattling whistle every time the wind swept past.

Dust, along the old wooden skirting.

Stained tatami, ugly and mismatched.

And the ceiling - watermarked and patchy, shifting into the board that has come to symbolise so much more to her than a game.

Every facet of her tiny childhood room burnt into the backs of her eyelids.

“On it, I saw a board. Pieces. And I’d play, for hours and hours, going through strategies, playing whole games, for years.”

She stops then. Remembers nights where her eyes had been swollen shut, small casualties of her father’s fists. Still she’d force them open, deal with the hot, stinging tears and the discomfort – and on her ceiling, the pieces. Blurred and wavering, but present.

In her darkest hours, body aching with cold, stomach churning in hunger, the ceiling was all she had.

Even now, when she’s faced with the reality of what she is – Miyu stares up at her ceiling and lets the pieces whir.

Because she is nothing more than a civilian woman without family, no grand name, and wealth in the form of tournament money and good investments -  a decent enough dowry, though she had fought tooth and nail for it and is loathe to give it up. For a man, at that? Distasteful.

The real world is complex. Regrettably, shogi has only an echo of its depth. It makes the reign she has over the board addictive. It’s where she is safe, powerful, and most importantly – on even ground with her opponent.

She can’t help but marry the pieces she so often sees with people she meets in her everyday life.

Ninja, pawns.

Noble families, knights.

Kage, generals and kings.

The thought of her own place? It makes Miyu sick.

But Daimyo?

The Daimyo are the players, blundering and selfish, and often disgustingly incompetent. She could do it better. She would do it better, if she dared to think about it for more than a minute at a time.

Here she is, a master of strategy, fighting every day to be recognised and somehow terrified of such recognition becoming reality. Yet, the alternative is somehow just as bad.

Remaining nameless and faceless keeps her as an inconspicuous annoyance, a mere imperfect grain in the wood of the board.

But respect – true respect – the attention of bigger fish, the threat of innumerable contenders, all of whom could want her dead and have it done easily?

That might just be worse.

The ninja ask her no more questions that night.

.

The fire is low, but still crackling as Miyu exits the tent. Her hair is down for once, and she’s in her warm sleep wear and slippers, but the air is chilly, so she sits on the log closest to the fire.

She appreciates the audible footsteps of whoever is on guard. The sight of them in her peripherals doesn’t startle her.

“Couldn’t sleep,” she says softly, absorbed by the flickering glow of the coals. “Sorry to-”

“Don’t apologise,” Itachi’s low murmur is a welcome sound. “Would you care for some company?”

Miyu nods, and he places a few small logs onto the fire before he sits beside her. Close enough that she can feel the heat of him against her side, a sharp contrast to the biting air of the early morning hours.

“Sometimes,” her voice is barely above a hush, “after games, I can’t stop replaying the entire thing.”

She feels his dark eyes watching her face, and realises she’s too tired to stop him from seeing how she feels.

“I can’t stop thinking about the holes in my play.” It sounds silly spoken aloud.

“You won.” She hears the question in his statement.

“This time,” she offers with a wry smile.

“You’re the best player in the world,” he shifts his gaze on to the fire, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his thighs.

“Today, maybe,” she sighs, “but tomorrow? The day after?”

“I’ve never seen anyone play like you,” he says, as though it means anything.

They sit in silence for a moment.

“You must think me pathetic,” she murmurs softly, “to question every decision like this.”

“I think you’re cautious,” he turns to look at her again. “You’re not arrogant or entitled. I think it makes you the best.”

Her eyes feel a fraction too warm, and she chokes out a little laugh.

“I’m such a fake. I act calm and steady, but I’m really terrified of failure.”

She turns her head to meet his eyes.

“If I lose,” her voice feels thick, “it means they’re right. It means – I-”

He settles a warm, scarred hand over hers.

“It means,” he says firmly, “that you will try again.”

She can’t seem to look away from his face even as she begins to shiver.

“You’re cold,” he tugs her hands between his, turning her to face him. “Do you trust me?”

It’s a loaded question that she thinks him cruel to ask now - with his handsome features exaggerated in the shadows the low fire casts.

She forcefully doesn’t overthink it.

“Yes.”

There. Simple.

And then he closes his eyes and takes in a slow, measured breath.

As he begins to breathe out, the parts of her hands where they’re touching begins to tingle.

Another breath in, and with his next exhale – warmth.

It seeps into her hands, up her arms, coiling in her veins comfortingly. Slowly it creeps up to her shoulders, and begins to spill into her torso, rolling down her back like a trickle of hot water. Soon she’s toasty warm from her toes to her neck.

“Amazing,” she manages around a soft, disbelieving laugh, “ninja do this whenever they feel cold?”

His head is tilted to the side, dark eyes drinking in the small curls of fog that come with her every excited exhale. Her cheeks are flushed pink, and her smile flashes a glimpse of her straight teeth.

“It’s a secret clan technique,” he admits, letting his thumbs stroke gently over the soft skin along the backs of her hands. “We call it breath of fire.”

“Ah,” she huffs another laugh, “and I tried so hard not to overthink your question.”

“Hn?” Itachi tries not to get lost in the way the golden glow of the fire curves along her jaw.

“Trust,” she’s looking up at him, her lips half quirked in an amused smile. “You asked if you had mine.”

“I did,” he tilts his head to the side slightly and watches as she mirrors him. A lock of her long hair slips from behind her shoulder to fall against her neck.

“And yet,” he can hear her resisting the urge to laugh again, “you are the one who showed me the secret technique.”

Itachi shrugs, wishing he could activate his Sharingan. But this moment is too fragile. He will do all he can not to shatter it.

“You told me something about yourself,” he hums, “it was a fair trade.”

“Fair?” she quirks a brow, “You know my deepest, darkest, most terrible fear,” her eyes glimmer with amusement, “and here I am, none the wiser about you or your worst fears.”

He pauses, letting his lip quirk upwards just slightly.

“And if I told you I fear nothing?”

She searches his face for a sobering moment. Her hands twist in his grasp until she can wrap her fingers around his calloused palms.

“You’d be lying,” she tells him, leaning in, “those who fear nothing love nothing.”

Itachi watches the shadows her lashes cast unabashedly.

“I don’t think you are a man who loves nothing, or no one.”

Here, he spots his opportunity. Contemplates for just a moment on whether to take it.

“You’d be right,” he keeps his voice low.

“I know,” she grins and it stirs something in his chest to watch her face glow with emotion.

“I have a brother,” he says simply. “I was five when he was born. I swore that day to be the best big brother ever.”

Miyu laughs and it’s just loud enough to have woken the others, but Itachi doesn’t have it in him to care all that much.

“I can imagine that,” she chuckles, “a tiny, serious you, swearing a vow over a screeching newborn.”

“He only screeched a little,” Itachi admits, letting himself smile for what feels like the first time in a while.

He doesn’t miss the way her eyes lock on to his face, pleased.

“I bet you are,” her eyes flicker up to the stars and she watches them for a moment. “The best brother.”

Itachi shrugs, opens his mouth to reply, and cuts himself short when he sees Shisui step out from a tent.

“Shift change,” he says with a shit eating grin, trying to sound apologetic and doing a terrible job of it.

Miyu pulls her hands from his as she stands, casting him a quick smile as she steps towards her tent.

“I should get some sleep. Good night.”

Itachi watches as she ducks into the tent, and then turns his blank gaze to his troublesome cousin.

“Terribly sorry,” Shisui yawns, placing his hands behind his head as he cocks his head back to take in the night sky. “You’re the one who insisted on keeping the shift rotation punctual, if I remember correctly-”

“Shisui.”

Itachi tries not to be annoyed. But the way her face had closed off so immediately at the sound of a voice that wasn’t his makes Itachi want to set his clansman alight.

“Sheesh, ‘Tachi. Cool it with the killing intent, yeah?”

He lays off it, exhaling sharply through his nose as he stands.

“I’ll do a perimeter sweep,” he says needlessly, shooting Shisui a quelling look.

“Yeah, yeah.” Shisui grumbles, “But make it quick. You’re prissy without your beauty sleep, ya know?”

If Itachi discreetly sets Shisui’s hair on fire as he leaves, that’s his business.