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Demented Ink.
Naruto Fanfiction // The Gala - Part II 
11th-Feb-2012 03:59 pm
cig mouth tie
Title: The Gala
Series: Monoshizukanohi//Naruto AU
Author: Darkprism
Genre: Drama/Romance/Kink
Rating: Mature
Pairing: Primary is Itachi/Kimimaro/Haku with references to three-quarters of the Monoshizukanohi world.
Word Count: Complete Save for Individual Section Editing
Warnings/Notes: Language, D/s relationships, references to abuse, fandom crossover, BDSM, impact play, nudity, language, gothic motif, side story, anal, oral, voyeurism, etc.
Spoilers: None whatsoever.

Summary: Upon their return from a cruise of the world, Haku suggests that Itachi and company throw a party...

A/N: This is a birthday gift for my friend, Kimya, who said she would love to see, "Haku playing the piano." The rest (d)evolved from there.

I'd like to say that there are 22 people represented in this story from six fandoms. Because I like to make things easy on myself. XD

Happy birthday, girl. Hope you enjoy. <3

"It is my sincere delight that we are well met within it," Itachi said, and Neji's smile was as radiant as it was cunning. Itachi turned to Shikamaru. "Excellent to see you again. I did so enjoy our last meeting."

Shikamaru chuckled, a faint flush coloring his cheeks. "I appreciated your, ah, willingness to answer my call of need."

"It was our pleasure," Itachi replied, fondly remembering his boys lying bound side by side with impaled sex organs straining for release they would not find for many hours while Itachi patiently walked Shikamaru through a tutorial on urethral play. "I trust your endeavors were fruitful?" Itachi asked Neji, politely.

"Entirely," Neji answered, and Shikamaru managed to squirm while standing and staring at the floor. Such a pretty sight, that; it sped Itachi's heart and had him pulling Kimimaro closer.

"Kimimaro," Neji said with affectionate reverence, reaching for Itachi's sweet boy.

"Master Neji," Kimi intoned, inclining his chin and quickening when Neji took Kimi's hand and brushed lips to the knuckles before letting go. "And Master Shikamaru."

"Hey," Shikamaru answered, leaning against his Master when Neji drew him near.

"Are we the first to arrive?" Neji asked.

"You are," said Itachi.

"Told you we'd be early," Shikamaru mumbled.

"And despite what you may think, that's not a crime." Neji kissed Shika's temple, eyes alight on Itachi. "I suppose it would be too much to think that your younger brother would beat us to this soiree."

"Ah," Itachi said, the regret real. "He and his lover declined to attend tonight."

"How unfortunate."

Itachi chuckled at Neji's insincerity, but he couldn't blame the man. Itachi knew better than most how impossible Sasuke could be. "Well, I believe my sibling is as yet discomforted by my situation."

Shikamaru snorted. "He just hates getting shown up."

Kimimaro laughed, coughed, glanced at Itachi and then stared at the floor. Itachi ran fingers up and down Kimimaro's spine. "The depths of my gratitude for my lovers' desires of affection, position, and loyalty are without bounds. It pains me that Sasuke would let jealousy trump such a truism, but it is a circumstance that I cannot fix."

"Well said," Neji praised, practically purring, and sleepy delight fluttered in Itachi's breast. In response to the compliment or in curiosity as to what the beautiful Hyuuga would be like lost in a state where Neji could do little more other than sing a soft song of pleasure, Itachi didn't know. Likely both. Itachi didn't care to limit himself by considering merely one side of any equation.

"I'm sure there will be plenty of people to keep the occasion entertaining," Neji continued. "Who else might be attending?"

Itachi inclined his head toward Kimimaro, who straightened for the explanatory task. "Easier to speak of who will not be coming, first. Masters Iruka and Kakashi sent their regrets, as did Master Tenzou."

Neji clucked his tongue. "Not even an offer as sweet as this could move Tenzou from his self-inflicted penance, I suppose."

"Suffering is rather a lost art." Itachi kept his contradiction careful, and he closed his eyes briefly when Kimimaro squeezed his arm. "The man will ache for so long as it suits him."

"I fear you are correct," Neji said dully.

"We sent our concerns in reply to Master Tenzou's response," Kimimaro said, nervous and earnest and entirely perfect. Itachi continued to pet the sweet boy's lower back. "I hoped that perhaps he might be spending an evening with Master Asuma, who will also not be attending," Kimimaro finished.

Neji laughed. "Good for you for the effort to introduce surrealism into Asuma's existence."

"Whatever do you mean?" Itachi asked, but with a deliberate inflection that none of the men missed.

"Masters Byakuya and Renji send their apologies for being otherwise engaged, and Masters Kakazu and Hidan are still touring holy lands abroad."

Itachi thought it unfortunate that the heir to Kuchiki Stone could not make it, as he liked the somber, contemplative man. Byakuya had a kinky streak ten miles wide, and that Renji character seemed well equipped to handle every inch of it. He said nothing on the matter, however, observing Neji make mental note on the location of the two rather volatile players, Hidan and Kakazu. Itachi kept his expression neutral. He knew that truces were often built on unstable foundations, and he had no qualms with Neji keeping an eye on Kakazu and Hidan, nor did he regret his connection to the pair. There were amusing and often up for heated debates ending in bloodshed. Such things were not beyond Itachi's purview of enjoyment.

"That's quite the list," Shikamaru observed.

"Truly," Itachi agreed with a smirk that he was told could chill the ice caps. "But never fear, your Master's hunger for expanding social connections among the eccentric will be well fed, this eve."

Neji was about to parry, which would no doubt be as amusing as it was thrilling, but the steward clacked heel and bent on a ninety degree angle. "Kisame Hoshigaki."

"Case in point," Itachi mused, bracing for impact as the imposing man strode across the room. Born of Japanese and Armenian parents, Kisame was a complex array of throwback genetics. He was slightly taller than Itachi, with a broad, flat face, thick lips, strong chin, and dark hair and eyes. In his early forties, Kisame still maintained a muscular physique that rivaled competitive strong men, and tonight his tux was a simple black affair with a very standard bow tie, but the fit was expert and the lines crisp. Diamonds gleamed in both earlobes and from multiple rings worn on various fingers, and when he smiled, Itachi saw the tiny clear gems that were embedded in the enamel of Kisame's front teeth. Trading in antiquities did serve Kisame well.

"Itachi," Kisame growled in a rasping, gritty voice that indicated a set of lungs marred by smoke. He took Itachi's outstretched hand, and, with a warning flick of deep-set eyes, tugged Itachi into a rough embrace.

"Kisame. Welcome to my home."

"'bout time you came out of your hole."

"All things on their own schedule."

Kisame roared a laugh. "Meaning you'll do what you damned well please." He shook Itachi's shoulder and retreated with a nod of his head that was the saving grace to shore up Itachi's irritation. "You've not changed. But tell me," Kisame openly admired Kimimaro, "is this really Oro's old boytoy?"

Itachi was about to offer an appropriate retort, but Kimimaro bristled, and met Kisame's eyes with a defiance that inspired such pride and joy in Itachi, it stole breath and words. "I am my own man, if you please, Kisame, and it suits me to pledge allegiance to a Master who cares for my heart and well-being."

"My brother in submission speaks true," said Haku, and Neji, Shikamaru, Kisame, Itachi, and Kimimaro all focused on the slender, beautiful boy who glided into their midst to smile with equal parts disdain and pleasure. "And were I be so bold and brazen, I would request that our beloved Master's ears not be sullied with reminders of lives long left to decay, for all that my brother and I know of, now, is the sincere joy of service to our lover and Master, Our Lord Uchiha."

Kisame was silent along with the rest of the group, and then he brought his hands together in slow applause. He planted his feet, crossed his chest, and bowed low to Kimimaro, Haku, and Itachi. Kisame always was irritating in his ability to do the surprising. "Itachi, you've outdone yourself."

"A group effort," Itachi said, shifting his weight to accommodate the slight swell of his cock.

"My Lord is too kind," Haku said, and he extended a slender hand to be caught and kissed by Kisame. "Would you be gentleman enough to accompany me to refresh my drink and fetch you one of your own? The bartender on duty tonight is thoroughly skilled."

"To hear more of your sweet song, little bird, I'll try to remember my manners." Kisame flashed a toothy grin to Haku's fearless chuckle.

"My thanks," Haku replied, curling around Kisame's bicep. "And have no doubt, dear friend, for should you lapse into old ways, I'm certain My Lord can remind you of the gelding practices of yore."

Kisame positively cackled, and Itachi had to busy himself inhaling Kimimaro's hair, else he laugh out loud at the unmasked look of horror on Shikamaru's face.

"I believe we'll follow," Neji said.

"Awesome," Shika muttered, but went along as the foursome headed toward the nervous, bartender target.

Itachi watched them go, tightening his hold on his partner, who had just stood up to a man who knew Kimi from Before, and who had just asserted power and choice and the satisfaction therein. "You are beautiful in every way, my sweet, brave boy," Itachi whispered to a shaking Kimimaro. "In strength and obedience, you arouse my interest and my very being." Turning, Itachi purposefully slid his groin against Kimimaro's thigh, and the very real evidence of the truth in Itachi's words pulled a sound that translated to gratitude and eagerness in Itachi's mind. Kimi's cheeks darkened, lashes lowered, and the metal through lip and flesh shined in distracting and appealing ways. Kimi covered and clung to Itachi's hand, and Itachi managed to place another kiss to Kimimaro's temple before Sasori and Deidara were announced, and the couple began to traipse toward them. Itachi carefully stayed pressed against Kimimaro, unwilling to break the contact that his boy seemed to need for solace.

"Always did love your little palace in the hills," Deidara said by way of greeting, and Itachi took a few seconds to lift himself out of the concentration he adored giving Kimi and Haku.

Deidara's ballgown helped.

Resplendent in crimson silks that spilled from a fitted bodice covered in black lace panels, Deidara positively preened, flipping open a red lace fan in a coy gesture. His eyes were lined and artfully enhanced, cheeks rouged, lips colored in shades of blood, and his blond hair was piled high in a nod to Victorian wigs. His shoulders were made narrower by the width of the skirts, his waist carved by the bone stays, and the cut of the gown was French, the top of the bodice barely covering nipples. He wore garnets encircled by diamonds on his fingers and about his throat, and his skin was dusted with a pale powder that smelled like a garden.

"Why, Itachi, I do believe you're staring," Deidara teased, smug in his beauty and lessening it with the pride.

Sasori snorted. He wore a traditional, formal Japanese kimono in black silks, the only adornment on the fabric the five kamon. In his hand, however, was a thin, reed-like cane. It, too, was black, though shiny, and its head was wide and flat, like a crop. Sasori tipped his wrist and snapped the instrument through the air, landing it across the front of Deidara's skirt. Deidara took the warning in stride, sidestepping to touch Sasori's elbow and to curtsey when Sasori bowed.

"It's lovely to see you both," Itachi said, entertained as always by Deidara's love of Sasori's unchecked cruelty.

"You're looking well," Sasori said, voice its usual flat monotone. Itachi didn't take offense; he understood that for Sasori to speak civilly at all to anyone was a compliment and a mark of respect.

"As are you." Itachi indulged himself by gesturing for Deidara's hand, which was promptly given. Instead of kissing or squeezing it, however, Itachi smiled at the impish Deidara and smacked the back of Dei's hand like a parent might do to a small child. Itachi didn't bother restraining the force, either, and Deidara flinched, pupils dilating and tongue snaking to wet a lower lip.

"Behave, pretty," Itachi warned. "Or I'll ask Sasori to withhold his torture while you're under my roof, and invite him to stay as my revered guest for as long as he wishes."

Deidara's expression turned bleak, but he curtsied lower, chin to sternum. "Thank you, Lord Itachi."

Sasori gave Itachi a look that bordered on pleased, and took Deidara's arm and steered them further into the room. Haku swept to Deidara and gave kisses to both Deidara's cheeks.

"Didn't we invite someone to keep those two occupied?" Itachi asked Kimimaro.

"We did, Master."

"Thank God," Itachi sighed, and Kimimaro rested his head on Itachi's shoulder with a light laugh. Itachi encircled Kimi with one arm, holding the boy and taking a moment's peace. In short order, Deidara earned several strikes from Sasori's cane, and Dei's delighted shrieks filled the room over Kisame's raucous laughter. Haku clapped and twirled like a schoolgirl, calling for two shot glasses and linking arms with Deidara to drink them dry. Neji bowed to Sasori, gesturing toward the cane, and Shikamaru said something that earned a laugh from the Hyuuga and a long stare from Sasori, appraising and interested.

It was so odd to see the elite mingle in his library like it were a common thing, and Itachi puzzled over his contentment until the steward's voice rang out like the blat of a horn: "Soubi Agatsuma."

"Master," Kimimaro murmured, in encouragement, Itachi thought, though Itachi held his ground and didn't cross to the hesitant man entering the room and embrace Soubi as he longed to do. None of Itachi's past was a secret or a mystery to the two men who shared his present, and both his boys knew what Soubi meant to Itachi. The studious, pained, broken child was near and dear to Itachi's heart, though when he last knew Soubi, when he had the quiet, aching child bound and begging and finally nearer to bliss rather than to grief, said heart was still encased in frigid steel.

Soubi stayed near the doors, toying with his hands and tugging at the sleeves of his plain, traditional tuxedo. The cut didn't suit him, and the white scarf he wore around his throat and tucked beneath his vest hurt Itachi, struck vital organs in killing blows.

"Master, please," Kimimaro begged. "Go to him before he simply leaves."

Itachi mustered the courage to do as his boy requested, but Haku was already there. Cautious and genteel, Haku approached the tall, lithe blond swathed in rented attire. Haku waved a hand in the air, a flippant gesture of artificial irritation, and Soubi's shoulders relaxed by fractions. Soubi stepped nearer Haku, who read the language like an open book and took the opportunity it offered. Haku clasped both Soubi's hands, Soubi blinking behind round-framed glasses in shock, and, with a silver tongue and careless toss of curls, Haku eased Soubi over the initial fright and toward Itachi and Kimimaro.

Itachi didn't have the words for the love he held for Haku in that moment. Nor for the affection that tried to drown him when Kimimaro gently, oh so terribly gently, urged Itachi a step forward while taking a position a pace behind.

"Really?" Haku was saying. "What do you study, there?"

"Art," Soubi answered, still so unsure but so incredible for the courage. Soubi's natural poise tried to rise to the occasion, faltering but strident. "Art history, actually."

"Oh!" Haku replied. "Do you know Deidara, then?" He gestured toward the man in question. "He's a sculptor of some renown in the area."

"I-I've seen him," Soubi said, but his eyes had landed on Itachi, and Haku bridged the gap between Itachi and Soubi, holding a hand of each.

"My Lord, I've met and fetched you Soubi, who tells me he's a student at Monoshizukanohi University, and who is, I fear, most worried to have joined a room full of such eccentrics." Haku smiled at Soubi. "I've reassured him we'll take good care of him. Keep him close?"

"It'd be my honor," Itachi said, and when Soubi's face fell into a scowl to mask the rise of unwanted emotion, Itachi allowed himself to hug his lost submissive, to tuck Soubi's head into Itachi's chest and neck, and to murmur a soothing sound. Soubi was stiff, startled by the affection, but Itachi paid it no mind. The reaction, the party, the room, and the sentiment of others be damned, he would not let himself repeat negligent errors, nor have Soubi think for a second that being here was a mistake. "I'm so glad you came, Soubi. Thank you."

Soubi let out a shaky exhale, resolve weakening before the force of Itachi's honesty, and at long last he gripped Itachi's jacket, struggling not to break away but to give himself permission to accept the assurance. Itachi removed his hat so he could better form a cocoon around the man in his arms. Haku placed it on a nearby table, and both Haku and Kimimaro flanked Soubi, understanding and empathy clear in their eyes.

"Stop it," Soubi muttered, retreating slightly to remove his glasses, which had fogged. Discovering he did not have the leeway to wipe them, he folded them, instead, obviously working hard to keep his voice steady despite eyes that swam in clear seas. "Please. All these people. Don't want to make... or be..."

"You speak as though those assembled in this room have not seen tears," Itachi said, thumb wiping a wet line from Soubi's cheek. "Or that they don't have memory enough to remember our time together or experience to know that reuniting can be overwhelming for the most mastered of men. I assure you, Soubi, no false judgment will fall upon you while in my home."

Soubi's fist clenched around his spectacles, and he wouldn't look at Itachi directly. "I'm such an idiot," he said, but Itachi recognized that the phrase was not a statement at all, but a question hidden in self-reprimand, a plea for assistance to put doubt to rest.

"I should have said good-bye," Itachi said, and he cherished his men for their synchronized approach to touch Soubi's shoulder and back when Soubi tried to get away from the truth so desired but so difficult to hear. Itachi chased after the retreat, conquered the brief resistance, and returned Soubi to the circle of Itachi's arms. "I've thought and worried for you, Soubi, and you were not wrong to think such feelings still exist. They do."

Now Soubi began to shake his head, and Itachi cupped a palm over Soubi's nape, rubbed and stopped the unconscious denial, not letting it take root. "And while I cannot be the Master I know you need, I hope you'll let me be the friend and the comfort you may seek."

"God," Soubi said, bowing his chin, and when he couldn't move, when he strained against the gentle entrapment and discovered its solidity, he trembled, violently. Haku petted Soubi's hair, and it was a marker of how distraught Soubi was that he didn't seem to notice. Itachi waited with cultivated patience in the pregnant silence of the library. He felt the genuine concern emanating from the likes of Neji and Shikamaru, heard the rustle of silk and pour of wine and liquor. For all Itachi cared, they could stand like this for the entire night and into the days beyond. Soubi needed to understand Itachi's intentions, needed to be given moments to find joy in belief, and Itachi could hold the line indefinitely with such ends in sight.

Soubi's mouth opened, closed, formed a clamped line, and for a terrible second, Itachi thought he'd lost Soubi behind the walls Soubi had to create around a core so wounded. He thought Soubi would tell Itachi to let go, and Itachi would obey without question. Itachi would never blame Soubi for such a choice; he knew he'd wronged this gentle, masochistic creature. Itachi had committed the crime of listening, tending, and then vanishing, and though Itachi knew he'd never promised more than fleeting encounters, knew he could not blame himself for creating those boundaries or for needing the temporary or the leaving in the face of great change, he would mourn the death of future opportunity to make amends should Soubi choose to keep distance.

Sniffing, Soubi unfolded and returned his glasses to his nose, swallowed, and dared a glance at Itachi. The millimeter lean toward and not away was enough for Itachi to feel comfortable holding Soubi against him again, and though relief was thick on the air, the steward was lost and uneasy enough that he didn't announce the arrival of the next guest. Clack, step, drag went heavy cane and slow tread, and Nagato entered to the steward's embarrassed fumbling, to Deidara's gasp and the snap of Sasori's reed, and all fell to echoes in the trilling silence.

Now it was Itachi's turn to want to bury himself in the arms of his lovers, as at the sight of His Excellency, of Pein Incarnate, of Itachi's old lover, Master, and mentor, Itachi's knees went watery while his backbone hardened. Nagato emitted a presence that was unlike any other Itachi had ever encountered: malignant, terrific, interest coupled with miasmic sadness. Nagato walked the earth like it was a graveyard meant to be plundered for corpses to animate into false companionship. Pein was a keen man, sometimes a kind one, but always an intimately understanding one. A strange trait found in a sadist so enlivened by blood and torment, but Itachi knew better than most that Nagato treasured those who could survive beneath the lash Nagato lived to give, and Nagato cherished and craved any affection that might be left over after the wounding was finished.

Nagato scanned the room, his umber eyes strafing constantly with the Nystagmus affliction. His tuxedo was deep purple with vertical stripes with a matching vest and a thick, black silk tie in an old fashioned knot. He wore a black hat, a pocket watch on a chain tucked into a pouch on his vest, the claw clasp on the opposite side, and his gray-streaked auburn hair was longer, now, past his shoulders. His narrow face was handsome, high cheekbones and few lines, but pinched in eternal suffering. Arthritis slowed Nagato's step and interrupted his sleep, but it never impinged on his swing.

With a quick rise and fall of eyebrow, Nagato started for Itachi, Soubi, Kimimaro, and Haku, the cadence of his approach timed to Itachi's pulse. Nagato nodded in greeting to the rest of the assembled, and Kimi and Haku faced front, bowed, and stood on either side of Itachi, who continued to cradle Soubi.

"My Martyr," Nagato said, inquisitive stare on Soubi, who, for his part, shivered at the sound of Nagato's accented, rich voice. "In care of the fallen, I see."

"So was I caught, so I must repay the favor."

Nagato's cane heralded his final approach, and he paused an arm's length from Soubi. He seemed sympathetic and wistful, and Itachi rose above the trained longing to dive into the need to please this esoteric and exotic man. "A pretty one," Nagato murmured, syllables slow, "to whom the alms are due."

Itachi met Nagato's silent question with one of his own, and entire conversations as to the nature of Itachi's slight, the pangs of regret Itachi harbored, and the inquiry after Nagato's possible interest happened in a strike of intuitive lightning. Nagato answered Itachi's query with a lingering look at Soubi, a slight upturn of lip, and an infinitesimally small tilt of chin. A spark of hope ignited in Itachi's guts, and he saw the path to a peace treaty to stop a war fought on two fronts. There may be a way to ease two sets of grief: Soubi's shattered hope and Nagato's magnified loneliness. Perhaps at one time, it would have been too much even to contemplate; too perfect and too tidy. But after one discovers the sun still shines despite all the gray, idealism was an easier medicine to swallow.

Gingerly, Itachi unwound Soubi to grasp Soubi's shoulders and saw with amazement and veneration that Soubi was floating. Unseeing eyes, blush tinting the tips of ears and face, Soubi was losing ground in the fight to stay present and accounted for. Itachi knew Soubi: the man probably had fretted and thought over this meeting for weeks, worried over it all day, likely nearly died twice on the ride to the manor, and had almost fled after being announced and again after being embraced. Soubi ran from potential contentment for grounded if tragic reasons, and it was no wonder the poor man was overwrought.

"Dear Soubi, let us--"

"Yes," Soubi whispered, more a rasped breath of a word than a real expression of language. He tried to say more, but Itachi silenced him with a kiss to his forehead. Itachi didn't like making anyone admit to something difficult twice unless absolutely necessary.

"Then friends we will be and comfort you will have, gentle Soubi. Kimimaro, could you guide Soubi to the restroom and atrium, let him relax away from the rigors of the gathering before dinner?"

"Of course, Master," Kimi answered, but Soubi flinched, shoulders hunching.

"What is it, dear one?"

"Could... could he escort me?" Soubi asked.

Kimimaro looked at Haku, who glanced at Nagato and smiled triumphantly at Itachi. Game, set, match, My Lord," Haku chirped without actual speech. "Well played."

Kimi stepped away from Soubi in pre-emptive acquiescence, and Itachi and Nagatos' eyes met. Itachi made his gaze unmovable, unwavering, and Nagato responded with a tightening grip on the head of the cane, a single blink, and a brief touch of palm to chest: a promise of respect that Itachi knew Nagato would keep. Itachi smiled at the man who broke him into pieces so that Itachi could reform his ashes, and Nagato clack-stepped closer. Soubi's tiny groan was music to Itachi's ears.

"The halls are twisted, the lighting poor, and the doorways many," Nagato said, breath moving strands of Soubi's hair. "But I know my way through much enacted practice."

"I get lost easily," Soubi answered, still hanging on to Itachi's lapels and pressing his temple to Itachi's lips.

Nagato leaned further, played a single finger touch to the seam of Soubi's jacket. "Then you should take my arm, little one, for I will guide you to find your peace around the course of events or join you in the dark for adventures to be found in wicked company away from prying eyes."

Soubi's breathing hitched, he stood on tiptoe to kiss Itachi's mouth, and spun, unsteadily until Itachi caught him. Itachi restrained both of Soubi's arms and presented him to Nagato, who didn't retreat from the invasion of personal space by one degree. Soubi's gasp was loud, cut in the center, and Nagato never blinked in the sweeping assessment from Soubi's eyes to shoes to head, again, and offered a gloved hand. "Oh yes," Nagato rasped, the hunger making Itachi's groin tingle. "You'll do."

"My humble thanks, Your Grace," Soubi whispered. Itachi let go, and Soubi transferred his hold from Itachi to Nagato in a simple movement that carried significance enough to make both Haku and Kimimaro sigh.

"Always interesting, My Martyr," Nagato said, heading for the door with Soubi in tow and pausing in front of the steward who tried with all sincerity to look like nothing unusual was happening. "Until dinner, then?"

"As you wish," Itachi said, with a nod and a pang of jealous nostalgia quickly buried beneath eternal thanks, as both his men clung to him, and all three of them waited until Nagato led Soubi from the room.

"Perhaps a seat, My Lord?" Haku said with unveiled respect.

"Yes, lovely boy, I think that's wise." Itachi's lovers assisted Itachi into a winged back chair, and Itachi pinched the bridge of his nose. He was at once drained and quickened by the unfolding of circumstance, and the solace of his treasures' presence was a gift from the gods, themselves.

"I'll fetch something to drink," Kimimaro said, trotting toward the bar.

"For what it may be worth, I believe you just did a remarkable thing."

Itachi looked up at Neji, who stood on the fringes of the circle the furniture made. Itachi gestured to a sofa, and Neji sat, Shikamaru standing behind him. The other guests milled around aimlessly, and Haku left to entertain them when Kimimaro returned with a glass of cool water, no ice. Itachi sipped. "Thank you."

"Starrk Coyote-Coletti!" The steward bellowed, evidently making up for his oversight with Nagato by adding volume to ensuing announcements.

"Kimi," Itachi said, and the tone was all the detail Itachi needed to give. Kimimaro fled to head off Starrk, who wasn't intolerable by any means, but Itachi couldn't handle the heir to the sports car fortune at the moment. He glanced at the latest guest, admiring the gleaming white tuxedo and matching fedora, with midnight blue hat sash, vest, shirt, and tie. The ensemble would look ridiculous on most people, but with the Italian skin and coloring, it made Starrk look like an extra in a gangster film, which suited the lazy bastard far more than it should. The bone tattoo of a monster's bottom jaw encircling Starrk's neck certainly aided the illusion. Itachi knew Starrk from Haze. Starrk never played, always observed, and Itachi often wondered if Starrk's lover, a half-sister by the name of Lilynette whose involvement with Starrk was quite the scandal, didn't like the lifestyle or if she sent Starrk to the club to get ideas.

"Who's that?" Shikamaru asked, leaning to speak to Neji.

"A playboy who amuses me," Itachi answered, relaxing when Starrk seemed all too enthralled by Kimimaro's metalworks. "No one of note for your political radar, Neji, I fear, though now that Haze appears to be shutting down, he would be a good candidate for Break."

"So he does mean to do it, then?" Neji asked.

Itachi shrugged. "Nagato always has his reasons, though he may appear fickle. He is, however, entirely true to his word."

"Izumo Kamizuki, Kotetsu Hagane, Genma Shiranui, Raidou Namiashi, and Ibiki Morino."

"Goodness," Itachi said idly, sipping his drink.

"You invited the chief of fuckin' police to--" Shikamaru began, incredulous, but stopped short when he saw the quintet.

All five men wore tuxedoes crafted from dull, black, pliable leather. Izumo and Ibiki's shirts were also black, along with their wide ties, but Kotetsu, Genma, and Raidou's shirts were crisp white. Around the latter three's throats were not ties or jewelry but heavy, wide, black leather collars, the fronts fitted with rings. Attached to the rings were fine lengths of silver chain. Kotetsu's led to Izumo, and Genma and Raidou's led to Ibiki. They all moved toward Haku's enthusiastic greeting with a sort of begrudging pride; as though they were waiting a challenge to their presentation. Itachi rather enjoyed knowing that no such negative advance would be made. The men were quite free to slave or enslave in this house.

"Technically, no," Itachi answered Shikamaru. "We invited two police officers, Genma and Raidou, who met Kimimaro during my boy's divorce from his previous Master. They, in turn, requested Ibiki's admittance, and I granted it. Now that I see the why behind the