Title: Blackbird Fly (after the flood)
Pairing: Morino Ibiki/Mitarashi Anko
Summary: Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.
Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi.
blackbird fly (after the flood)
All Souls Day celebration was kind of a big deal in Konoha. Of course, when you lived in a village the size of a peapod whose second most successful business was the thriving local undertaker's, you made sure that the dead were taken care of in their arguable afterlife. Death was a way of life for shinobi, so it wasn't all that strange that it walked alongside each and every one of them hand in hand; they went on with life breathing it in like fine dust. The particles of death accumulated in their lungs, coalescing and percolating and crystallizing into weights of unbearable heaviness that exploded, once every year in mid-August, into a raucous festival of incense and candles and white rice porridge. It was the living's way of saying, we remember, here is our peace offering, take this and walk with us and lead us not into the endless night.
That was, if you believed those kinds of things.
Ibiki wasn't particularly superstitious, and all his beliefs were spotty at best, so the celebration meant nothing more to him than another non-pay holiday, banal and a bit irksome on account of all the noise emanating from the crowded streets into the quiet of his apartment. Give it till sundown and all those merrymakers would be loaded enough to start getting rowdy – only last year, some stupid fucker had sent a bottle through his living room window and covered the carpet with shards of broken glass that had taken weeks to remove. He had never found the culprit, but had made sure words got around that, should there ever be a repeat of that performance, dire consequences would be in order, courtesy of Konoha's Interrogation Squad.
It wasn't always so bad, he supposed. Some years, external circumstances would miraculously intervene – nothing like a bloody clan war to interfere with all the festivity. However, this one had been disappointing from the get-go – disgustingly quiet on the conflict front – and it was common knowledge that the more peaceful people got, the harder they partied. All that pent-up energy. Ibiki would eat his own kunai before getting caught in the thick of such madness, but no Chuunin Exam in combination with a shocking dearth of enemy spies to torture meant that he was effectively out of work, and couldn't even fake say a weeklong mission in the next county to get away from it all.
Sometimes, it never ceased to amaze him just how a career as a specialized Jounin for one of the five most powerful ninja villages could have all the professional satisfaction of the lowest civil servant post.
So here he was, trapped inside on a hot summer afternoon, boring optical holes into the ceiling above his bed as the clock offed the hours, spindly hands dragging lazily from a tick to a tock. The sky ripened to a patch of cherry red, warm twilight slanting through the glass of his windows in bars, highlighting the dancing particles of dust. What was he doing, really? Not sleeping, obviously. Rifling through a book he couldn't read, glaring at his houseplants, lush fern and plump cacti he kept for company. They rowed his windowsill, obese and perplexingly healthy. Coated in tangerine half-light, they resembled bloated corpses freshly bled.
He'd been spending too much time in the interrogation chamber again.
With an impatient 'humph', Ibiki pushed himself up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, hitting the floor heavily, searching for his shoes. The ruckus outside and the suddenly stifling density of the room were giving him a headache, summer locusts ricocheting against the inner walls of his thrice-scarred skull. He had to get some ventilation in his system, but the thought of going into the streets and landing himself smack into that thronging, sweating crowd…
Well, there were solutions for that. He took to the rooftop, and, casting one last disdainful look toward the festooned-and-streamered village center, sped off in the opposite direction.
He was cast in mid-leap momentum when he saw her, a pensive speck in his peripheral field of view, and in a moment of illogical reasoning, swerved an abrupt detour in her direction. She barely even looked up when he landed softly beside her with a conspicuous absence of sound.
"Anko," he grunted by way of greeting, uncertain what momentary lapse of judgment had led him here. He didn't want company; she didn't look much like she did.
"If you're looking to catch all the festivity, you're going in the wrong direction," she intoned. Her voice was oddly subdued, the empty spaces palpable between the quiet words. Her apartment complex sat on the borderline edge of town, some way apart from the noisy hubbub of the festival, and he noted that although she was sitting on the laundry deck, she was facing the other direction, toward the setting sun.
"Festivity's not my thing."
"Why aren't you out celebrating?"
"Festivity's not my thing."
This was news. "And I thought all those dango stands would have called to you like rotten meat to flies."
That remark earned him a smirk, so sharp it might as well have been a grimace.
"Where have you been?" He was maybe semi-serious now. For three days in a row, his morning office hours had been blessedly, conspicuously free of Anko's customary dynamic arrival. The furniture surfaces too had been suspiciously devoid of their habitual sticky rings of canned red-bean residue. His coworkers (pathetic underlings) chalked it up to overzealous pre-gaming; Ibiki knew better. It was the whole genuine concern part that he had trouble with.
"Here and there. Mostly here." Her quietude was – god of bleeding clichés – disquieting. There was also something odd about the way she looked that he couldn't lay a finger on.
"You're supposed to call in sick if you decide not to come in, you know."
The smirk widened a little, and he glimpsed a snap of white, white teeth. "So knock a few thousands off my gold-chip retirement plan. House call isn't necessary."
Ibiki found he had nothing to say, and he was already regretting coming to talk to her, because sometimes just because you knew things didn't mean you had the right to ask. And he realized suddenly what he had found so strange about her appearance – she was in civvies. He couldn't remember ever having seen Anko out of her trench before. The hitai-ate/flak jacket combo was the mainstay around the office – he himself seldom wore anything else. Genma liked to joke that this was because most examiners (and Ibiki in particular) had no life to speak of.
Today, she was wearing a dark green shirt and slim, tapered blue jeans. No shoes. The shirt was baggy, creased, and not remotely flattering. She had thin legs and remarkably narrow hips, as if she had managed somehow to entirely skip the growth stage in which hips widened and solidified, so her sloppy clothes gave her a blank, almost neutral look, as did the nondescript brown of her eyes. She perched at the very edge of the deck. One bare foot trailed over, dangling.
"Why'd you come?" she asked, breaking the silence. He thought 'to check up on you' was too contrived, and so kept quiet.
"Was it really to check up on me?" she continued, scalping his mind.
"Why do you think I need to?"
"I don't. You think you do."
He sighed mentally, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. What was he even doing here, anyway? "I was just trying to get away from all the hustle. I… Look, I won't even ask."
"Smart," she said promptly. "Because I don't want to talk. I'm all bummed out."
That elicited from Ibiki a perplexed look. It was as if, in spite of the childish antics, the hideous junk food, the voice, in spite of everything, it was really moments like this that reminded him just how terribly young Anko was, and, well, wasn't. "You're bummed out?"
"Anything that would more or less alleviate this situation?"
She evened him with a look. "Don't be sarcastic."
"I'm not," he replied coolly, shoving his hands into his pockets. "I'm trying to be helpful."
He had anticipated multitudinous varieties of reactions: not this. She doubled over like a folded protractor, laughing breathlessly, her arms wrapped around her shaking torso. The sound of her laughter swelled and undulated in straight, sharp lines. Her mood swings manifested with such fierce velocity he wasn't surprised she'd never learned to relegate expressions to just her voice. When she was through, she looked up at him, face red and split in a choppy grin.
"That's kind of creepy."
Ibiki meditated on that non sequitur, and decided not to take it personally. "Duly noted."
She tilted her head and observed him through lopsided vision. "You got somewhere to be?"
"Not in particular."
"Good. Want a beer?" And just like that, the mood changed.
"Because it's after sundown, which means it's socially acceptable to drink."
He looked up, and indeed, the sun had slipped below the shingle roof of a three-story building in the distance. The sky above them had emptied of its jewel color, deepening to a shade of purple. Downtown, the festival had lost some of its momentum, the participants drifting home for more private celebrations with their families. "You can actually start drinking after lunch."
"Who says I haven't?" Again, he saw the glint of her teeth in the dark.
"Why don't we get something to eat instead?"
"Don't feel like going down there."
"Then stay. I'll get us some take-outs. What do you want to eat?"
"Teriyaki," she said without preamble.
He blinked. "Why teriyaki?"
"Because I'm bummed out and you said I could have anything I want."
Ibiki, who distinctly remembered saying no such thing, said, "Anything you want."
They attacked the two packages of cheap teriyaki Ibiki brought back with gusto, downing vast quantities of Anko's refrigerated beer. The greasy slices of meat kept slipping out from between Anko's chopsticks, and after a short, fruitless battle she just gave up and started tearing at her food with her fingers. When they had eaten their fill, they sat on the deck sipping leftover beer and watching the festival wrapping up downtown.
"Look at all those candles burning in the dark," Anko said after a moment. "Like starlight caught in a jar."
Ibiki cocked his eyebrow. "Don't you mean fireflies?"
"Same thing," she quipped nonchalantly. Then, without much rhyme or reason, "I never liked All Souls Day."
"You don't like a lot of things." Like the smell of the sea wind, foam spray and the white whiplashes of dried salt on the skin. Moonless, starless nights. Monsoon season – humidity, mud sucking between blistered toes, the sky rupturing with rain – and the way old wounds had a way of acting up whenever a change of weather lingered in the rotten air, how it took all of one's will power not to reach up behind one's shoulder and scratch at the worst of them, just once.
"Well, All Souls Day has got to be at the top of the list. At least top three."
"That's right," he said, drawing a breath of the deep, steeling sort. Might as well get it out in the open. "They found you on All Souls Day."
To her credit, she didn't even miss a beat. "Damn, do you remember how hard it rained that year? The festival had to be cancelled."
Ibiki nodded. "Best year of my life."
"Mine too," she answered mutedly. "No shit."
It had actually been a thunderstorm. The ANBU had found Anko in a thunderstorm, huddling in a muddy ravine on the edge of town, bloody and cursed and freezing to death. These were all the things Ibiki had learned from reading highly confidential mission reports afterwards (they all had to go through him anyway) – he had not actually been there to witness his older comrades carrying her tiny, sodden body to the Hokage's tower, and therefore had not been shocked by the pastry quality of her skin, her wracking cough, her matter-filled eyes, etc.
He had seen her on a training ground, though, days later. She had sat atop a punching pole, quiet, and had looked unscathed except for the line of stitches progressing down one thigh, losing heart just above the knee. The medics had found a way to hide all the purple bruises on her face and arms somehow, though he'd always thought this a bit pointless: his scars were only skin-deep, hers went down to the marrow of her bones.
"You know it's really kind of funny," Anko said, her grin slipping a little. "He was hanging me out to dry, and somehow I still got all wet." She laughed hollowly, then pulled a pack of cigarettes from her back pocket and put one in her mouth. Her fingers fumbled with the silver lighter for a moment, trembling, and Ibiki noted: little bones. She was quite slender in built. That day on the training ground, he had been struck by the sight of her tiny, ineffectual fists as she'd sat knotting her knuckles ashen white. She was so light one had to wonder if her bones were hollow too, like a bird's, but he supposed no hollow bones were ever so tough to break.
(Years ago she'd perched on top of a wooden pole just like she was sitting now on the laundry deck, chin tilted, knees bent, as if at any moment now she would break off and take flight into the wide, wide open sky. Watching her then, he'd almost found himself wishing she would. Later, he'd learned that she, in a manner of speaking, had.)
"Here's an idea," she said brightly, snuffing out her smoke. "Let's get us some candles and we'll have our own All Souls celebration, just the two of us. One that won't suck."
"All Souls Day is for the dead."
"So?" Still, she smiled. "All my ghosts are still alive."
She scrambled to her feet and disappeared quickly down the darkened stairway, presumably going to her apartment. Ibiki popped open another can of beer. In a moment, she returned, waving a bundle of short white candles under his nose. Clearly, she'd planned ahead.
They scattered the candles around and lit them, and soon, the deck was floating in the soft, dreamy light cast by the tiny dancing dots of flame. Anko reached into her jeans pocket again, and drew forth something rectangular with a dull metallic sheen. Ibiki squinted, and saw that it was an old, slightly battered harmonica.
"Can't have a party without a little music," she laughed, and placed the instrument to her lips. He recognized the tune immediately – an old folk tune of the Fire Country, full of beautifully shaped empty spaces. Anko performed well, with real feelings but unsentimental. When she was finished, he applauded earnestly.
"'Blackbird'," he said.
She nodded. "Such a sad song. It always makes me feel like I'm wandering through a dark, cold forest, the winter sunlight coming down through the thick branches, and there're birds singing softly all around me."
"Watch it, Mitarashi. Alcohol's making you maudlin."
That earned him a chorus of laugh. Anko pretended to wipe a tear from the corner of her eye. Then she picked up the harmonica again and played several more songs. She had very good pacing. He recognized a few – even a clean, lovely rendition of a lullaby from his childhood – and had to resist the urge to hum to the melody. The candles burned low; the night air was getting colder, with a snapping breeze. He thought he could smell rain.
Anko finally paused for a breather, laying down her instrument and picking up the pack of cigarettes again. She dangled one between her lips, but didn't light up. "Not bad for a party, eh?"
"Could be worse."
"This is nice. But you know that loneliness thing people keep talking about? Totally overrated. Being alone isn't the worst thing in the world by far."
"Plenty of people are alone, and they make it."
"Wanna hear the story about how I lost my virginity?"
"I think I'd rather not."
She laughed again, quick, resolute. Bottomless skies, blackbirds fly. "Then tell me how you got that big old hole on your head. The one right in the middle, right there, yeah."
He snorted into his beer. "How else? I got careless."
She was, predictably, unconvinced. "Weeeak. You got to be more specific than that, old man. E-laaa-bo-rate."
"I was careless enough to be captured while in possession of valuable information. The enemy captain, clearly a man after my own heart, had a sadistic streak. Is that specific enough for you?"
By way of answering, she stuck out her tongue at him. "Hand me that last beer."
"No," he said, slapping her hand aside. "You've had enough for one night."
She pouted petulantly, and then made a dismissive motion with her hand. "Fine, fine. Tell you what. I'll stop drinking if you'll keep me entertained. C'mon, tell me a story. A real story."
"Any story of mine would give you nightmares."
"That's what I'm counting on," she announced, grinning wide, the little bird asking casually if he'd like to go flying. He blinked away the imprints of the candlelight pinpricks from the back of his eyelids, and cleared his throat. The words tumbled out before he could stop himself.
"There was a village, a very beautiful village, bright and with lots of green, flowering trees that gave lots of sweet fruit in the summer. And in this village there were two young boys. Brothers. They'd been alone for as long as they both could remember, the older one always taking care of his younger brother. That was the way, right?
"So the two boys lived together, played together, learned together. The older brother grew into a young man, and one day he met a woman. A beautiful woman. They married, and had a child together. A daughter, all pretty and soft-cheeked like her mother, right? The man – the husband, the father – he became very busy with his job and his family and his happily ever after. He couldn't look after his brother like he used to anymore. He wasn't worried, though, because he knew his brother was a good kid, a very good kid. But one day, the man was walking along the riverbank to his place of work when another man – a colleague – came up to him with a letter, anxiety brooding on his creased brow. And that's how the man knew, that his brother, his good, good brother had fallen in with some bad people, who had tricked him into running away.
"The man chased after his brother, of course. He chased and chased and chased, and finally caught up with him, but not before the bad people got their hands on him and tried to make him tell them things he'd sworn to secrecy. Many things happened, but in the end, the brothers came face to face, a house burning down around them. And the man begged, he begged and begged and begged for his brother to come back with him. But the boy was scared, he was too ashamed of what he'd done, he couldn't even look his older brother in the face. So he ran away, and the man lost his brother in the raging fire.
"But that wasn't the worst thing. The worst thing the man never learned about until they had brought him back to the village, to his house by the river. The bad people, because they couldn't get through to him, had gone after his family. His wife managed to get away, taking their daughter, but not before they had wrung her tiny neck. That's why the man's wife had to leave. They stood across from each other on the bridge outside their house, and she told him why she had to leave. And for the second time, the man begged and begged and begged, and finally he convinced his wife to come back with him. She told him to go on ahead, and the moment he'd turned a fork in the road, she threw herself into the river."
He finally paused and took a deep, shuddering breath, as if the words had drained him of his life force. He had never heard himself speak like this, the sharp intensity, a paled dream made vivid by internal repetition. There were lots of clouds in the sky now, obscuring the moon. He felts very tired suddenly, old. Unfitting, this sorrow.
Anko let the cigarette drop silently from her lips, and crawled on her knees toward him. He stared at her in question. Then she reached for his left hand, cradling it between her smaller ones, her fingers likening to the shape of his palm. He could really smell the rain now, and with it, the smell of Anko's hair. Her skin was soft, indented to a touch.
"You don't wear a ring," she observed, in a voice barely above a whisper.
"I don't wear a ring," he answered, nodding.
A streak of blue-white lightning split the dark sky abruptly, followed by a loud clap of thunder. Fat drops of rain shot from the clouds, coming down fast and hard, a dizzying assault. The candles around them sputtered and went out, one by one. Neither of them made a move to go inside.
With deliberated slowness, Anko picked up her harmonica and very softly ran through the first few chords of 'Blackbird' again. Then she stuffed it back into her pocket and, looking up with a startlingly serious look, said, "How about spending the night with me?"
"I'm not sure that's a good idea."
Her gaze didn't change. Strands of wet hair stuck to her forehead, dark against her pale cheeks. "What else have you got to do?"
She had a point.
They went into her small apartment and cleared a space on the messy floor to lay out the futon. Then, without even toweling themselves off, they moved toward each other, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. She removed his shirt and pants, and sat back with her legs tugged under her to look.
"Wow," she said, smiling slyly. "You really are scarred all over. Now I'm going to have to show you my scar."
He shook his head, pained, and said, "Could you have a little less class?" She laughed wildly.
She let him undress her then. He kissed her slowly, then moved his mouth down her neck , clavicle, chest – careful to follow the lines of her stomach. In spite of her thin arms and legs, she was surprisingly full-figured from the waist up. Her breasts were round and high. He ran his hands over them and took one pink nipple in his teeth. His fingers looped lazily into her hair. He suddenly remembered something, and looked up.
"May I?" he asked, gesturing towards her hairclip.
She hesitated, then nodded her consent. He reached up behind her head, found the catch, and then her wild dark hair was coming loose and tumbling all around her shoulders, long bangs shielding her face from view.
"Imagine that, you actually look a little feminine like this."
"Oh shut up," she growled and tumbled them both over, throwing her negligible weight against his chest and pressing him into the futon. Then she was leaning over him, hair like a cascade around them, and their lips came together hard with a painful clash of teeth. He felt his breath hitch wildly in his chest as one of her hand wrapped around his cock. He moved his lips up her neck to her ear and nibbled on a lobe, then slid a finger inside her warm, moist slit and began to move it. Now it was her turn to tremble, her breath intensifying. The rain kept on pouring down. Thunder shook the place from time to time.
"How long do you think it's going to rain for?" she asked suddenly, out of breath.
"Don't know," he murmured into her damp hair. "The rain came late this year."
"I can smell it on your skin, like copper. When it rains like this, it makes me feel like I'm the only person in the world."
With his finger still inside her, he moved to lay her back down on the blanket, and parting her slim legs, eased himself into her. She held her breath and twisted beneath him. He lifted her hips and pushed in all the way, then started moving slowly, his hands caressing her back. They talked and laughed and fucked together, easy and soft like the old friends they by all rights should be. All in all, they went at it three more times that night. Eventually, the downpour relented, and Ibiki fell asleep to the soothing rhythm of Anko's fingers ghosting over his arm, light as breath.
The drumming of the returning storm on the roof woke him. The erratic beat reminded him of a moth banging against a lampshade. He opened his eyes to see that it was still dark, and that the space next to him was empty. He blinked a few times to clear his sleep-crusted vision, and cast his gaze around until he located Anko curled up on the window sill, resting her head against the pane. Every little breath she took created a small patch of fog on the glass surface.
He threw the blanket aside, pulled on his trousers, and came up to stand an arm's length from her, waiting to be acknowledged. Presently, she turned to face him. She had changed into a long white button-down, and from the way the street light from outside hit her, he could see her nipples pressing against the thin cotton material. Her hair was tangled, her knuckles white and knotted around her knees.
"Are you still wondering about how long it's going to rain?"
And yet, somehow he had never managed to realize how mercurial Anko's eyes were until that moment. She answered him with silence – the silence of the infinite sky, of walking through the deep, dark wood when all the birds had flown south for the winter. "What if it never stops raining?" she said in a strange, tiny voice. "What if it just keeps pouring down until everything floods? That'll be a hell of a mess to clean up afterwards. Such a pain, to dry up all the puddles and wash off all the mud."
A lesser man would have stepped up, bridging the not-distance between them. He would have put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her into his chest, kissing her temple. Ibiki knew much, much better. He went ahead and did it all anyway. She tolerated it, for time being. The sound of pattering rain filled their ears. Once, long ago, he had stood just like this at a window, watching the All Souls Day festival parade by. He could still remember the soft curve of feminine shoulder beneath his hand, the warm press of tiny child fingers in his palm, the crack of the theater drums. Once, long ago. Before the flood.
"You know, this really isn't my style," she said after awhile. "I'm more of a stumble into bed drunk kind of chick, a get out of my apartment, I'm in a pissy mood sort of woman. But I don't mind a free breakfast, especially if it involves red bean custard."
"That's what I'm counting on," he said, and imagined that – perhaps – he could hear the flood pulling away already. Perhaps.