Title: A Ninja's Life For Me
Author: Pickled Death
Genre: Angst
Rating: PG-13
Summary: one-shot; implied Shikamaru x Ino; Nara Shikamaru's first assassination.

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We pillage, we plunder, we rifle, and loot,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

Over a hundred jutsus lay categorized in the proverbial file cabinet that is his mind. He flipped idly through each of them, procrastinating, ignoring the way darkness nipped at the corners of his eyes. Millions of ways to kill, mutilate, discard, dismember, and still he created more, and the oddest thing is he could probably recall most of them if required to. He always has an ace or nine up his sleeve, but he considers each and every one of those aces but a "last resort".

The target owned a boat. A yacht: not too big, not too small, though it was more the latter than the former.

The target was maneuvering his boat slowly, carefully beneath a bridge. The target was delightfully unaware of Shikamaru's piercing, analytical gaze from beneath the small eyeholes provided by the ANBU mask. In fact, it appeared that the target was…whistling. The sole possessor of that average-sized yacht, still whistling, shot an idle glance at the forestry that crowded either side of the river; for a brief second, his eyes nearly rested on the tanned, earthy mass that was Shikamaru's cloak hidden amongst autumn foliage.

And then the target looked away.

God, what an idiot, his thoughts registered, unbidden. ANBU aren't supposed to think on missions. They're supposed to act. Can't even see me.

Shikamaru nearly entertained the humorous impulse of waving his arms up and down like a lunatic, perhaps scream some declaration of his location and then see whether or not the target would spot him.

Instead, he twiddled a kunai between the index, middle, and ring fingers of his right hand. Math and absurdly long calculations

Wrong hand, he thought suddenly, and switched hands.

The boat faded beneath the bridge and out of sight.

Ambidextrous, he recalled suddenly, and switched again.

Shikamaru blinked from beneath the mask, frowned, and adjusted the thin painted porcelain.

The boat was out of sight.

He sighed and leaned against the tree upon which he was perched, flattening his scrawny back against the wood and pointedly ignoring the splinters that bore into his shoulder.

"Get him on the way back, get paid, go home."

His agenda clear once more, the shadows that had been creeping alongside the riverbank, prepared to snag the boat and then its owner in its black grasp…they retreated back into the woods, and their master vanished along with them.

·

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"Something tells me this isn't right. Something makes me wonder. Something makes me want to run up to a Kage—any Kage, I don't care—and ask them who made them God. Who gave them the right to give us the right to kill people? The answer is money. Why do we need money? To trade money for food, for goods, for things. Why do we need to trade? Why do we have to get something in return? Because there's no such thing as a selfless act, that's why.
"It gets easy to avoid your conscience after a while.

"Mom is a scary woman. I was the kind of kid who sat up after a bedtime story just to disprove those bedtime stories. Calmly explain how and why a knight in shining armor stood no chance against a dragon.

"Then she started telling me stories without happy endings.
"Would you call me sadistic if I told you that I liked those endings? Maybe not for the same reason Orochimaru would love those endings.

"It was hardcore evidence of the existence of mortality.

"A whole lot of complex thinking later, I was a shinobi. And suddenly, the existence of mortality was shoved in my face without reason or thought.

"If Chouji were here, he would know that these doubts prove the existence of my mortality, and I would tell him I knew it existed all along."

·

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We extort, we pilfer, we filch, and sack,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
Maraud and embezzle, and even hijack,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.

"Murderer, noun; one who commits murder. Murder, noun; the unlawful killing of one human by another, especially with premeditated malice. No malice, no murder. 'Unlawful'—feh, there's no laws against killing here or there or everywhere. The only way to get your justice is to get it yourself." Pause. "Sasuke knew that all along. …Damn, that bastard's smarter than I give him credit for."

He couldn't help rambling. The shadows were shifting because of his restlessness; his hands were set in their standard premeditative position beneath his cloak and this time, his mask was on his head rather than his face. The sun was at its highest point in the sky and the boat had yet to make its return trip. The thing followed the same route every day, you see. Which was, in fact, supposed to make Shikamaru's job easier. Easy assassination, but they send ANBU so it's practically impossible to fuck this up because this is a lot of money and this is the way the world works.

Shikamaru was quiet again, resting his head against the tall bark and closing his eyes with a frown. "Assassin would be a better term. But maybe not. All ANBU are assassins, but all assassins aren't ANBU." Then he realized how stupid that analogy or whatever the hell that was sounded and sighed. "This sucks."

His ears netted the sounds of the water shifting, and he knew the boat had returned. He shuffled around, carefully slipping on one of his two masks. The physical one, painted and glinting like fine china, yes. The metaphorical one, the one capable of killing without a second thought, the one he has yet to conform to, no. He saves that one for when it counts, because he liked to think that there are two classified sides to him: one that doesn't kill, and one that does kill.

Chouji would never have looked forward to killing.

Shikamaru hated remembering sometimes.

The yacht crept out from beneath the bridge just as languidly as before. Almost as lazy as he couldn't afford to be nowadays.

He sighed and allowed his mind to be consumed with calculations as he hopped to the next branch, which provided a nicely camouflaged lookout directly above the river. He produced a needle, leveled his right hand, channeled the right amounts of chakra and physical strength, and calculated just how it would land and how there would be naught but a tiny hole in the glass. Into the neck, piercing the jugular—no muss, no fuss.

And there was a split-second in which circumstances were perfect, and Shikamaru could have gotten paid and gone home.

"No malice, no murder," he mumbled.

He recoiled and thoughtfully traced a fingertip on the edge of his mask, barely avoiding cutting his finger on the porcelain.

"Fwish and hiss," he said flatly as he flung the needle into the water.

If the Hokage asked about the mission details, he would lie.

·

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"You have questions and assume that I have the answers. And maybe I do. But sometimes, maybe I don't, and that's what worries me.
"We doubt the same things. We doubt the purpose of shinobi, the reasons for being a shinobi… But I have to draw my own conclusions because no one's going to do it for me.

"Ino, Ino, Ino. Don't you—any of you—understand? The more you expect of me, the more disappointed you'll end up. Consequentially—do you remember the chuunin exams? The less you expect of me, the…oh, whatever. You'll probably think I'm bragging.
"All I want is for people not to underestimate me and not to overestimate me.
"Is that really too damn hard?

"Oh yeah. I also want to sleep.

"And not the crappy kind of sleep, either. I hear that ANBU have nightmares of a more potent sort.

"Maybe this was a mistake.

"I haven't gotten a good look at the clouds in a while.

"Is it too late to quit?
"Of course it is.
"Live to kill and kill to live—are all ANBU like Gaara?

"You spin, tumble, and lastly fall but I've been there to watch it all; sometimes when you fall, you fly, and sometimes when you fall you die. Sometimes when you dream you grin but only when you dream of sin; you're angelic in my eyes, but you're the devil in disguise."

·

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We kindle and char, inflame and ignite,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
We burn up the city; we're really a fright,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.

The next morning, he was patient, ever patient if not vaguely annoyed. By what, he couldn't name, and it was simply far too easy to blame his vague annoyance on the target. The target was by no means elusive. The target didn't even know he was a target. The target was just a simple man in a simple boat doing his simple duty—which, Shikamaru deduced, was a tiny and relatively inexpensive transport business: moving small quantities of food or timer. Maybe a person or two on occasion, but Shikamaru had yet to witness evidence of that. How quaint.

"Simple man," he mumbled. "This would've been a lot easier if he were a ninja."

Maybe it would've. Maybe it wouldn't have. Shikamaru sighed. "This is so stupid."

Stupid it was. What kind of brainless idiot loiters around in a tree whilst he could have been at home in bed without a stupid mask on had he killed some other oblivious idiot yesterday? Nara Shikamaru, ANBU extraordinaire, that's who. This was—this was something Naruto would do. And that thought alone automatically made what he was doing more stupid than before.

Sunrise. "Ferry's late," he noted quietly.

The shadows shifted accordingly as he dangled his feet limply from his perch.

"Is this what all ANBU go through, first assassination? Sit around glaring at someone who doesn't even know they exist? Tsunade-sama's gonna have my head on a platter…"

The yacht appeared just a tad beyond the horizon, slowly as usual, heading towards the bridge, and if Shikamaru strained he swear he could hear whistling—that of a familiar song, one that had been running through his head as of late as he sat in the branches. (Slept in the branches, even.)

He fiddled with the acupuncture needle.

"This is such a crappy lifestyle…"

The sky darkened slightly as the yacht meandered through the wide stream, and Shikamaru blinked as it began to drizzle lightly, and he sat back again, mimicking his lax position from yesterday and pointedly not watching the boat.

"Maybe…when I die, I'll be judged. And someone, anyone, will tell me that I don't deserve go to where good people—Chouji—go—went—because I killed people. …So what am I supposed to say to that? 'It was for money'? 'It was my job'? Should I even try to justify what I'm doing, what I will do? It'll probably sound stupid, heh. What if I said I was remorseful? Remorse doesn't bring back the dead." Pause. "I would know." Pause. "I am such an idiot." Then, at last, he glowered at the ferry as the needle dangling in the crevasse between his index and middle finger disappeared.

"Enjoy your last day, hombre," he said, and said no more that morning.

·

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"There was something I didn't like about my jounin promotion. Oh yeah, maybe it the crowd of people running up to congratulate me. 'Congratulations, Shikamaru! You've earned it!' Tch. God, that's annoying…and so, so dumb.
"And there was something I did like about my initiation into ANBU. No one congratulated me. 'Wow, you're now a volatile weapon of Konohagakure! Congratulations, Shikamaru!'
"I remember Neji staring with those creepy eyes of his. I remember Asuma-sensei looking on almost sadly. I remember Naruto with this dumb, shocked look on his face because he's smart and thinks I'll regret it just like he does.

"I remember you looked at me like you would never see me again after that day.

"You still see me, right?

"That can be taken a lot of ways, though.

"Like…do you still see me wandering around Konoha looking for a safe place to go cloud-watching?
"Or maybe…you still see me as the same person I was all those years ago, rather than the ANBU you aren't supposed to see or know?

"Ino…

"…I don't know what I'm saying anymore."

·

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"We're rascals, scoundrels…"

Ram, boar.

"…villains and knaves."

Ox, dog.

"…Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho."

Serpent.

A hiss of smoke and sulfur and suddenly Shikamaru was in place of the window that allowed the target a clear view of the tranquil waters ahead.

The noonday sky was foreboding, what with the rain and the dull skies.

"We're devils and black sheep, really bad eggs…"

The target screamed.

Shikamaru was busy recalling the song as three needles flew out of his hands and imbedded themselves in the target's torso—various places, really. One a centimeter above the right lung, one two centimeters above the heart, and one for good measure beneath the bottommost rib in the target's portly flank.

The boat stopped. The target fell, blood seeping out of the punctures in tiny rivulets like red tears. Or waterfalls.

"…Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho," Shikamaru finished non-triumphantly, adjusting his mask as he crept out of the windowsill and into the cabin. The pane of glass reappeared behind him. He cast his dubious gaze upon the target, whose hand was fumbling somewhere beneath a table. "The hell? You're still alive?" The target's breaths came in noisy wheezes. Shikamaru reached out to flick one of the needles, the one near the heart.

His eyes widened fractionally behind the mask as a machete was thrust through his cloak and somewhere above one of his kidneys.

"Who sent you?" the target spat, wheezing and coughing heavily as blood pooled in the back of his throat. "Yadate, right? I knew he wanted the boat but I never thought he would stoop so low. How much is he paying you!?" The target choked and coughed and stained Shikamaru's cloak.

"Fucking bastard," Shikamaru hissed, hand curling around the wrist wielding the machete and cracking it in five or seven and finally thirteen pieces.

The target's yelp of pain promptly died, quite simply because the target not so promptly died. The target's hand fell limp and the machete peeled further into Shikamaru; the ANBU found no time to pull it out as the tear in his cloak became bigger, as did the tear in his flesh.

Shikamaru heard himself mutter "fucking bastard" once again as his vision clouded and the world fell to blackness.

·

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"This isn't what I wanted, by the way.

"'So,' you might ask, 'what do you want?'

"'What do I want? To kill? To die? To live? To love?

"None of those, actually.

"I still wouldn't know what to tell you if you asked, though."

·

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We're beggars and blighters and ne'er do-well cads,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
Aye, but we're loved by our mommies and dads,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

He awoke quickly and quietly, his eyelids rising instantaneously and his hackles along with them. Suspicious and wary eyes, that of ANBU, flickered from wall to wall, to the faintly stained blanket draped over his slim form, and finally, to the fact that he was not wearing a shirt. He blinked and grimaced at the sight of his ribs, heavily outlined by his semi-pale skin; his torso was notably less muscle and more…uh…nothing. Dimly, he wondered if his organs had any room in there when the door opened and Tsunade entered with a smile.

"You're finally awake," she said, and her smile became evil. "What kind of ANBU gets stabbed on a simple assassination mission?"

Shikamaru sighed a long-suffering sigh, dragging his finger along the edge of the bandages on his stomach. It'll be a long scar. "Hokage-sama, with all due respect, shut up." Then it occurred to him that that was not really a great thing to say, so he feebly added, "Please."

Tsunade only laughed before she forcibly set her jaw. "You could've bled to death out there. You have to be more careful."

She hesitated long enough to allow Shikamaru to sit up with agonizing slowness; Shikamaru's fingers scrabbled at the sheets as he struggled to support himself upright. A low hiss escaped through gritted teeth as fresh blood blotted the bandages, and Tsunade was slightly alarmed and slightly irritated. "Idiot. If you're going to change position, stay in the same one for a good while unless you're in the mood for some serious pain. Not to mention that'll take ages to heal."

"Not if you heal me," he pointed out.

Tsunade rolled her eyes. "It's not like I heal every injured person to end up in the hospital, you know. Waste of chakra. I have better things to do with my time. Besides," she said cheerily, "you can use this time to think about what you did wrong!"

"…Hokage-sama, what're you doing here if not to heal me?"

"Your friend was looking for you a couple of days ago. Asked me where I sent you, and then she took off."

"'She'?" Shikamaru splayed a hand on his temple. "I don't have any female friends, Hokage-sama. Neji doesn't look that girly, does he? I heard Tenten was going to cut his hair during his sleep, but with that damn Byaku—"

A blonde head appeared around the edge of the doorframe. "Shika? You awake?"

Tsunade shot Shikamaru a look.

"Her?" Shikamaru asked semi-innocently, jutting his thumb towards Ino. "She's not my friend. She's my personal tormentor."

"Shikamaru!!" Ino screamed, stalking across the room and pausing before flinging her arms around him and hugging him. Tightly. Shikamaru squeaked a very manly squeak and his wound bled some more (much to Tsunade's distaste). "What the hell were you doing!? I heard this was a simple mission! Only you could screw it up like you did!"

"Thank you for your vote of confidence," Shikamaru said dryly.

"And it's ANBU! Your first—oh, whatever!" Her expression became less severe, and she released him from her deathly-tight embrace, her pale blue eyes attempting to read his narrowed brown ones. Failing, she flung her arms in the air in exasperation. "What the hell were you doing out there? You were supposed to return right away!"

"Hokage-sama, ANBU missions are supposed to be classified," Shikamaru said weakly, suddenly feeling quite vulnerable without his shirt.

Tsunade shrugged. "Not really. Hunter-nin missions are almost always classified. As for ANBU, it's a case-by-case thing. Besides, it was your first assassination. The girl seemed worried about you. What harm could it do?" Without awaiting a response, and missing Shikamaru's unhappy scrutiny, the Hokage spun on her heel and exited.

"You're a sorry excuse for a ninja sometimes, Shikamaru," Ino commented, and smiled weakly as she stood to retrieve a fresh roll of bandages. "What do you have to say for yourself?"

Shikamaru frowned and shifted his hands, pressing his fingertips and thumbs together.

Then he smirked wanly, opened one eye to stare at a curiously peering Ino, and said in the most serious tone he could manage, "Yo ho, yo ho, a ninja's life for me."