Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Naruto or anything pertaining to the anime or manga. The characters, places, etc… are not mine, nor do I lay any claim on them. This is not an attempt to infringe on any rights or copyrights, as this is purely for entertainment.
Authors Note: I blame my three dogs, who yesterday, in their overzealous game of love, knocked me down into a tangled mess of fencing and wire behind the garage and, amongst the licking and scratching and my own attempts to get from underneath their excited dance of affection, caused me to tangle my arm and hand in wire; and effectively slice up my fingers. Of course, I didn't reprimand them as they continued to pounce on me while I pulled the rusty metal from my fingers, and I didn't get angry when they tried to lick the wounds clean, either. Even though it made my skin crawl, just a little. I blame them - even though I stayed outside, my hand still bleeding and sore, and played with them for two hours - for the entirety of this blighting work of fiction. My dogs, and the goddamn huge flock of blackbirds that has taken up residence in my trees and yard, and continue to screech their heads off right outside my window - peppering my dreams with nightmares, and depriving me of sleep.
Title: 'A Murder of Crows'
Author: run dog run
Characters/Pairings: Kiba, Shikamaru / KibaShika (very nondescript, you can pretend they were fighting)
A Murder of Crows
Kiba's whole body hurt.
It ached and screamed and burned with tension and exertion and too many long days and nights without rest. Every heartbeat made his head throb, every move sent electric pulses to new places, gave heat to tired and overworked muscles. His body was near it's limits, and Kiba knew if he was forced to keep going, had to push on and stretch himself thinner over more long days and nights; his body would just go numb. It would simply give in to the strain, and fall into mute echoes of what used to be pain. Right now, though, everything hurt. Everything. But what hurt the most was his hand.
Three curved cuts on three fingers, and they smiled with teeth; right down to the bone.
The skin at the edge of his face stung with sweat, rubbed raw at his temples from the mask. He'd worn it for days. Days and days of heat and hunt and battle; two weeks chasing four people, and eventually, he'd worn the mask so long that it had scraped away the skin wherever it touched. He wondered, idly, while gazing at the cuts in his fingers, if any of it would scar. If he'd have those notches permanently etched into his flesh. Not that it mattered, there were already so many scars he could draw a map on himself and use it to get lost.
The fifth day, he'd come home. Spent six blessed hours lounging, enjoying the rain and company and soft colors. And then, just when he could breathe again, he had to put his mask back on. Six hours into his homecoming, on the fifth day, he was back in the wood, riding the wind and the earth into battle again. Hunting. Somewhere in there he lost his breath, lost count, and dreamed the whole mission; only that dream was more like a nightmare.
Those smiling little cuts; those wounds, came with a wire and a neck and the weight of a man's life.
The Nukenin cornered, pinned by the growling bulk of Akamaru, and Kiba was ready to take off his head… But this time, the Oinin had a surprise; another new way to make it that much more difficult to close his eyes and just see the inside of his eyelids. Kiba was ready, poised, to take the man's head and leave the rest; a feast for the crows. And the red and white mask gave him a wire. Long and thin and silver, and the way it glinted in the light, it almost looked like a chakra line. And it was sharp. One little tug and it could take off his fingers, if it weren't for the gloves.
Thirteen days in, and Kiba had a wire, and a man waiting to die. Only, it didn't quite go like that. And while everyone stood and stared, a ring of eyeless masks in the clearing, Kiba had to do even more chasing. The trees bore his weight, his and the nameless, faceless nukenin; the one who had a name and a face, and Kiba knew it.
But only on paper; only ever on paper, because otherwise, it was that much harder to do what needed to be done.
Trees had a funny way of splicing light, sending a straight beam into a million oddly shaped spots that spilled and folded over anything. Those spots could hide something, disguise something, like they did for Kiba, when he asked really nicely. Or they could do the opposite and prompt a revelation that could mean the difference between starving and a full stomach. And so it was easy, for Kiba, to pretend he was a wolf that walked in trees, and step in so silently. And it was even easy to put the wire around the mans neck before he even knew the sliver of metal was biting into his neck; like it was most hungry for what was in the middle, on the inside.
Kiba felt it split the glove right about the time the man decided he didn't really need footing anymore.
The sudden jerk pulled him down, thrust him forward against a thick branch that wanted nothing more than to bite into his ribs. It wasn't hard to hold the weight. It wasn't hard to hold the thinness of the wire either; not when it was wrapped in loops around the first three fingers of each hand. It was when he came forward, crashed into that branch – the one that kept him from falling out of the tree – and his arms were pulled down; that's when the glove split. The wire pulled right though the cloth and mesh and metal, slipped right into his skin, through his muscle and met his bone. That final jerk, when he bounced his arms and let the man's weight and the force and the wire do it's work; to separate the man's head from his body. It cut clean through skin and muscle and even spine.
Somehow, it wasn't enough to take his fingers. It wasn't luck, even if it was. Because Kiba has never believed in luck.
After ten minutes of catching his breath, Kiba finally climbed down from the trees. He didn't have to turn around to see the four painted masks staring at him, didn't have to look back as he tossed the dead man's head backward. Even without looking, he knew it would roll to land at his superiors feet, slack jaw hanging open and blood smearing from still warm lips down to a clean sliced neck. And when the other Oinin bent to pick it up, he didn't bother to wait for the cold, emotionless congratulations. Kiba just wanted to find Akamaru; to leave before they summoned the birds.
Irony, Kiba thought, that they called it a 'murder of crows.'
Shikamaru pretended to sympathize with him two days later. Even unconsciously stroked his own finger at a distant memory of broken bone. But that wasn't the same thing. Not even close. When you break your own finger to escape a nightmare… Well, it's not the same as having a man's death cut right though your flesh to smile at you and give you a new horror to dream about every time you close your eyes.
It wasn't even similar.
But Kiba smiled and let Shikamaru change the bandages. After he pulled at the still open wounds a few times; commenting absently on the irony of the grinning lacerations even as he used his good fingers to stretch each of the little smiles open one last time. And he thanked Shikamaru quietly for redressing his wounds, even though, oddly, the Nara was terrible at bandaging wounds. And when Shikamaru got too curious, asked how someone could possibly get wounds like that, Kiba just stared at him. Stared at him, and waited until Shikamaru conceded that he didn't really want to know after all.
Later, after fourteen hours of restless sleep, Kiba managed to drag himself out of bed. Managed to throw on some clothes and push his way past too many growling, foul tempered dogs, and out onto the porch. And after he sat down, pushed Akamaru away for the third time, he peeled off the badly wrapped gauze and looked again. He really should have gotten stitches, but that would have meant going to the hospital. And really, that would have meant having his sister pin his hand down and stitch her way across his fingers with her little needle and catgut thread. Because there was no way Hana would let him go to the hospital to get stitches when she could do them just as well with her supplies right at home.
They really weren't smiles. Little half moon mouths that pinched at the edges, with lips that had feathered back together with crusts of blood and graying skin; like the sticky mouth of a dead man. Like the silent, sewn mouth of a shrunken head, even. But not smiles. Kiba picked at the scabbing edge, pulled at the dead skin with his fingernails, and inspected the puffy pink swell of healing flesh, before sending them to his mouth so he could chew at the sore spots and cut away, with his teeth, the peeling edges of skin. He could still taste blood, and beneath that, metal.
Metal that somehow seemed to twist from around his fingers, to his tongue and down his throat until it seemed like he was being choked.
Shikamaru caught him gnawing at the cuts an hour later, reprimanded him for tearing some of the angry little smiles back open. And when he explained to the Nara that he had to get rid of the dead skin, had to get the dried blood off of his cuts, Shikamaru only frowned at him and asked him why he didn't just wash them. Kiba didn't answer him though, because really, it was hard to explain. The dogs, when they were wounded, licked and chewed at their wounds, pulled at them gently with their teeth until they were satisfied; or until they healed. Kiba figured maybe he was just like the dogs; but that wasn't really an explanation.
Six hours into his day off, Kiba started to get anxious. He'd heard the birds call three times, and he'd thought he'd seen empty-eyed masks another four. The last time, he wondered if he wasn't going insane, because that time, he didn't hear the birds. Shikamaru had stared at him silently as he filled his growling stomach with a bottle and a half of sake instead of dinner, and neatly sidestepped any questions of sanity by placing his hand over the rim of Kiba's cup before it could fill one too many times. Kiba tried to be angry, even slammed his fist on the counter and explained, loudly, that when he had had enough to drink, he'd know it. But it made his hand hurt, and when he pulled it back to nurse the pain away, he stumbled, and slipped right off the stool.
At that point, he thought maybe he didn't know, and that he should let Shikamaru cover his cup.
When Shikamaru helped him up from the floor, Kiba didn't say a word. He didn't growl, even though he wanted to, and he didn't bother to fight for his freedom when the Nara held too tight to his wrist and his waist as they stumbled back to the Inuzuka home. He didn't bother to argue, either, when Shikamaru dropped him bodily onto the hard floor of the back porch; even though Kiba could have sworn he'd fallen from a treetop, and his head was still somewhere up there, dangling, with wide eyes and a lolling tongue.
Five minutes later, Kiba couldn't stop himself from shivering. Shikamaru pretended not to notice, and that was fine with Kiba. He didn't need someone to hold him and tell him everything was ok. Because that was a lie. So they sat there, Shikamaru close, but not too close, and staring at the tree line, and Kiba, shivering and just trying to ride out the storm that was, suddenly, his emotions. It wasn't that he was sad, or angry, or even upset. He wasn't anything. It was more like apathy; peeling back and curling over him until it had folded in on itself and overwhelmed him.
Kiba figured that was the most frightening thing that could happen to him, but he couldn't find it in him to care.
The shaking stopped eventually, broke into a different kind of overwhelming tide, and finally settled into a hunger that had absolutely nothing to do with food. And Kiba figured this was just another turn in his slow descent into madness. One minute he's obsessing over dead men and disembodied heads, all alone in his silent waking nightmare, and the next, his body wants nothing more than to tear at someone else; to own them and reaffirm that blood, indeed, still courses and flows and puts heat to flesh.
Shikamaru wasn't surprised when he heard Kiba growl, didn't flinch or grunt as his head thumped against the wooden floorboard. Didn't mind when Kiba pinned him to the ground, or when forceful hands pressed into his flesh. And he didn't say a word as Kiba straddled his hips and held him down. For a minute though, hovering above the nonresistant figure beneath him, Kiba slipped off into something more dangerous. Because Shikamaru's eyes are black, and somehow, black eyes reminded him of those hollowed out holes that stared out from the painted masks of the Oinin.
And because, just then, when he pushed Shikamaru down, he thought he heard the birds.
When Kiba's eyes went blank, Shikamaru tightened his hands; pressed his fingers hard into still sore flesh. Pulled roughly at bony, bruised shoulders and brought Kiba's hovering body down hard against his own. And that was all it took to bring Kiba back; because he couldn't leave when he was still there. When he was right there, with his sore hands on either side of Shikamaru's head and his knees on either side of the Nara's hips. And because, really, Kiba preferred Shikamaru to the birds and the masks and the nightmares that followed them.
The skin at the edges of Kiba's face stung with sweat; still raw from the mask, and his fingers were numb. But Kiba didn't care. He was too busy trying to fill his mouth and lungs and head with Shikamaru, or whatever mundane madness he could. Trying to ward off birds, and scare off the masked ghosts, and invent something new to paint on the inside of his eyelids. Kiba didn't bother to be gentle, didn't bother to worry whether or not his sharp teeth were drawing blood from Shikamaru's lips. And Shikamaru, if it bothered him, didn't mention it; didn't even bother to try and stop Kiba when he pushed too hard or when he clamped his fingers down so tightly that it left bruises.
And Kiba was glad. Because he couldn't have stopped, even if he wanted to.
Later, after too long, or too short a time, Kiba let go of Shikamaru, pushed himself back against the wall and stared down at his hand. When he pulled the bandage off and started chewing at the wounds across his fingers again, Shikamaru didn't say a word. Didn't try and stop him or suggest that he clean them this time, didn't even reprimand him for pulling the little cuts back open and spilling tiny drops of blood all over the both of them. So they sat in silence, Kiba pulling at the wounds with his teeth and trying to tune out phantom birdcall, and Shikamaru, staring after a crow at the edge of the trees, picking at some small furry thing captured in it's claws. When Kiba finally broke the quiet, commented that the cuts weren't smiling anymore, Shikamaru just nodded.
Because there was nothing he could say.