"When you have insomnia, nothing is real." : Because every man kills the thing he loves. Itachi/Anko with a side helping of Fight Club. Slight AU...ish.
(a/n) for the prompt "inspired by: fight club" over at missioninsane on livejournal.
"Hanako" and "Taro" are kind of like "Jane" and "John" for English speakers: basic, boring names you think of when you try to think of a random name. When combined with the family name "Yamada," they become the equivalent of "John and Jane Doe."
(disc) Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto and a gazillion other people. Fight Club is the property of Chuck Palahniuk, and any quotes you see here that are really, really cool are most likely his. I do not claim any quotes from Fight Club as my own, but you'll have to spot them yourself. Read the book if you can't. Read. It.
Beautiful things are made to be broken. She is beautiful. She is about to be broken.
She's several years older than me, and yet, she had turned to me in the bar and asked me to come outside with her. I did so. I don't know why. And now we stand, facing each other in the empty street.
"I want you to hit me," she says, "as hard as you can."
Just do it.
I haul back and nail her one in the gut, sending her flying into a wall behind her. The street lamp falls and smashes on the ground with a tinkling of glass and smell of smoke, and she stands up slowly, hunched over, while the remaining lights lining the road cast a halo, silhouetting her. I can feel myself wincing; I hadn't meant to hit quite so hard.
She smiles weakly at me. "Thanks," she says, and begins to hobble away.
Well, I couldn't let her walk home like that.
And that was how I met Mitarashi Anko.
In theory, if one were an Uchiha, and possessed of a certain bloodline limit, and if such a one were to, say, kill his best friend and witness his death, then it would be possible for this hypothetical individual to gain a certain power that would grant him control over the most powerful force in nature; namely, the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox.
I know this because Madara knows this.
I was six when the fox attacked Konoha. I cannot possibly be expected to remember it with such clarity as to corroborate his claimed uninvolvement or dispute it. I will say this: it scared the living shit out of me.
Madara scares the living shit out of me.
He didn't always, but then again, I wasn't always a murderer myself, or a liberator, or a philosopher, or maybe just insane or whatever word we're calling it today.
And Shisui wasn't always dead.
Let me start earlier.
I couldn't sleep.
When you're ten years old and a member of the Uchiha clan and a universally proclaimed genius to boot, preparing for your first Chūnin Exam, I suppose people might expect you to go a couple of sleepless nights. I had not slept for six weeks, since the day they gave me that damn green vest and told me I was good enough to die with it on as opposed to dying without one.
When you have insomnia, nothing is real. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. A wall appears between you and the rest of the world. I developed permanent lines under my eyes and a close-to-permanent blank look on my face. I found it hard to connect with people—I found it hard to realize who and what people were, other than pale ghosts flickering in front of my eyes like candle flames.
The healers told me you can't die from insomnia.
I was ten, yes. Shinobi mature quickly because they die young, it is said, and I won't argue with that. I will say this, though: my maturity for my age can be blamed, I firmly believe, on my recurring and damning insomnia. Those extra eight hours in every day wear at the mind, second by second by second etched into your brain until reality is illusion or illusion becomes reality. Maybe that's why I became so good at genjutsu.
This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time.
I would spend nights staring holes in the ceiling with my Sharingan, trying to use up all my chakra so I'd have to pass out and sleep to make it up. I would count the dust motes in the shaft of moonlight in the window. I would slip into my little brother's room and watch him breathe peacefully and wonder if the Sharingan could copy someone else's dreams. I would sneak out and throw shuriken, trying to exhaust myself the old-fashioned way. I would practice jutsu I'd copied the day before until I mastered them, until I burned my chakra so hard that I would fall where I stood and lay paralyzed, unable to twitch a finger from exhaustion and yet still unable to sleep.
The instructors would observe my prowess and marvel. My father would nod and rumble his approval. My little brother would watch with private and ever-growing despair. And I would smile politely and wave and internally dread the next night.
It was on such a night that I met Uchiha Madara.
I had been throwing shuriken for four hours straight. I wasn't quite sure if I was brave enough to do it with my eyes closed yet; in this dark, it wasn't like there was much of a difference, but you know how it is when you know your eyes are closed and you naturally try to be more careful and end up making yourself worse off. I had no desire to explain a twisted ankle or fractured wrist to my father in the morning.
I threw the last kunai in my pouch and collapsed against a log, spent. I thought, maybe this is it. I'm so exhausted, maybe this will be the night when I close my eyes and wake up and it's morning and I'm late and the world will be real again and—
I noticed with sudden sharp awareness that the kunai that I had thrown had somehow made its way to the base of my neck, teasing the ends of my hair gently and scraping the skin ever... so... softly. There was someone behind me.
There is a beautiful sort of haunted clarity in the moment you realize you are about to die because you are a stupid child.
The person holding my kunai spoke, and in the crystalline beauty of that moment, hearing his soft but bone-rattlingly deep voice was hearing the voice of God: "A shinobi, much less one of the Uchiha clan, should not be taken so easily. Why shouldn't I kill you now and spare the other hidden villages the trouble?"
I swallowed hard and could think of nothing but the dark and formless things that wound their ways around my thoughts at those hours. "I don't know."
"Will you argue for your life?"
I blinked up at the stars, at the sickle moon. "If not now, then someday. If not that day, then someday after. Any person you ever love will either reject you or die. If you extend the timeline long enough, everyone's survival rate drops to zero." A pause, a beat, a breath. "I just don't want to die without a few scars, that's all."
The kunai left my neck and I wondered whether whoever was there was going to plunge it into my back or the back of my head. Then he spoke again. "Interesting."
He dropped the kunai at my feet; I could hear it hit the ground. I shouldn't have turned around. I did.
A tall silhouette, blacker than the black of the sky behind him, and a mask with a single eye hole and a flash of blood red and all of a sudden I was dizzy and all of a sudden it was even darker and all of a sudden Sasuke was shaking me shouting nii-san nii-san we looked everywhere for you tou-san is furious and I laughed and I grabbed him and hugged him until he had to squirm out of my grasp for air and there were tears in my eyes because the day after you sleep for the first time in six weeks is the day you are reborn from the goddamned dead.
She lives in a rundown apartment complex about ten blocks from the bar and twenty-seven from the Uchiha compound, and she doesn't want my help.
"I've been punched by hundreds of ninja, ninety percent of them more masculine than you, and I don't need you to walk me to my house," she sulks. I have her in a fireman's carry, one of her arms slung across my shoulders and one of my arms wrapped around her waist. She doesn't know it, but I have a pair of shuriken hidden inside one of my ANBU gloves that can come out in a second if she tries anything funny with the arm near my neck. I may be chivalrous, but I am by no means stupid.
"I am not walking you to your house. I am carrying you to your house," I explain.
"Bullshit you are." She tries to squirm out of my grasp, but I stick a finger in a pressure point near the waist and she jerks and sags in my arms. "No fair. No fair."
"We're shinobi. Where is 'fair' in the job description?" I ask (a bit irritably, I admit). "Maybe you shouldn't ask strangers to hit you. Mind if I ask what that was about, by the way?"
She's silent for a bit. I guess she does mind. "You're always trying to improve yourself, aren't you?" she suddenly asks and I have no idea where she's going with this. "You know, little genius, kid with a clan and a name and a future and a hundred little gold foil stars to put on the wall chart, and you're always out there training." She makes a face. "God, that word."
That sentence was a train wreck. Maybe she's going delirious. Maybe she's bleeding internally. It really would serve her right. "...And?"
"And maybe self-improvement isn't the answer," she says. "Maybe self-destruction is the answer."
We get to her apartment and it's a mess. Papers, old mission status reports never filed correctly, wooden dango skewers decorating the walls arranged in attractive patterns, you know. I set her on her feet and she scowls at me.
"Thanks," she says. "Now get the hell out of my house."
I ignore her and start gathering papers. She asks what the hell I'm doing.
"No, really." I hand her a stack of papers. "Here, it'll go faster if we both do it."
She just kind of looks at me and snatches the papers out of my hand. "Who are you, my mother?" she snarls. I shrug.
It turns into a kind of treasure hunt. She finds several as-yet-unopened packs of instant ramen. I find some old pamphlets from the hospital, the kind you just grab off the racks and read out of desperation when you're holed up in there for a few days with a broken collarbone or some such. These were from Anko's day, and they were very entertaining.
"Oh, yeah, I remember these," she says, glancing over my shoulder while I stare in disbelief. "I got those when I was five or six with a sprained ankle. The little kid's versions were hilarious."
They're little informational packets about the human body. I read out loud, "'I am Taro's Kidneys; I regulate the level of toxins in Taro's bloodstream?' 'I am Hanako's Left Ventricle'—why do they have to have the cartoon organs speak for themselves?"
"We aren't all baby geniuses. I guess some kids respond better to the cute talking lungs," she says, grabbing the whole stack and stuffing them in a drawer. "I wish I had some they'd give to the older kids at 'that time.' 'I am Hanako's Uterus,' 'I am Taro's Prostate Gland'..."
"I am Hanako's Right Ovary."
"I am Taro's Testicular Cancer."
We look at each other and burst out laughing.
I would go out and look for the mysterious ninja every night. After all, I still couldn't sleep, genjutsu being only a bandage-type solution and not really helping the whole underlying insomnia problem. Plus, I was insatiably curious at that age.
Some nights I'd find him. Even at that cocky age, I was smart enough to recognize that he was letting me find him. Those would be the nights I'd talk for hours about the things I'm not allowed to think about—the village, the clan, the wars, the nature of evil, dark hearts and dark minds and the definition of betrayal and what preferred method of assassination defines me as a person, et freaking cetera. Those nights I'd talk for hours and wake up with a strange, unsettled feeling and seem to remember having a conversation but not being able to remember anything the other party actually said.
Some nights I wouldn't find him. I'd sit perched on treetops and stare out over the village and track the moon as it moved across the night sky. I'd wonder:
If I woke up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?
One night, I stayed in and read old clan history books. The Sharingan, the Senju clan. Old clan wars. Old clan leaders. Old clan grudges. Uchiha Madara.
I blinked and turned back a page.
Anko and I end up sitting out on the roof, talking for the rest of the night. She produces a cigarette. "Got a light?" she asks, in the tone of voice used by smokers everywhere when they know you don't like to see them smoke but aren't going to say anything about it. Just to show off, I race through some signs and breathe the tiniest little goukakyuu no jutsu onto the end of her cigarette. She snorts. "Cute."
"Bit of a waste of chakra, I'd think," she says, inhaling deeply.
"Bit of a waste of lungs," I mutter. She only smiles. "Is this more of your 'self-destruction' policy?"
She shrugs, exhaling the acrid smoke towards the moon. "I once dated Sarutobi Asuma, so I guess maybe," she admits. "That didn't work out, and now I'm addicted, damn that guy."
"Shame." I flick my Sharingan on to better watch the fading, fading trails and swirls of her secondhand smoke winding out into the atmosphere. Her chakra is midnight blue and strangely captivating. Thinking better of it, I phase back into normal vision so I don't get caught staring.
"You kind of remind me of him, you know," Anko continues, talking through a mouthful of hot carbon monoxide and god knows what else is in that crap.
I'll bite. "How so?"
"You brood." She smirks. "Brood and brood and brood. Sarutobi Asuma, grooming to be another Hokage and on his way to greatness and genius and godliness and more words starting with 'g' and he was miserable. That's why he smoked. Only miserable people smoke.
"And there's you, don't think I don't know who you are. Uchiha Itachi, crown emperor of everything mothers want out of their little ninja children, chūnin at ten, ANBU at twelve, pride of the entire clan, and do you know what?" She blew smoke in my face. I tried not to cough. "You are one gloomy little killjoy."
"And you gathered this in two hours of knowing me."
"I knew when I looked at you." She takes a deep drag. "And then, there's me. I am perfectly happy and free as a lark and you know why? No one expects jack shit out of me. I am the crazy snake lady."
"I thought only miserable people smoked."
"We're all miserable."
"You're contradicting yourself."
She breathes smoke in my face again, just to bother me. "We are not beautiful and unique snowflakes," she says. "We are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world, and one day, every one of us that is alive now will be dead and there will be people alive who don't even exist right now. None of us will ever be content. None of us will ever be complete. None of us will ever be perfect. So if there's something you want to do, shit, do it."
I'm twelve and a half and she's telling me this.
"Don't wait. The world's falling apart as we speak."
She's eighteen and she's given up on life.
I am Taro's Suddenly Accelerating Heartbeat.
Her chakra is midnight blue and I am kissing her and I can taste nicotine and wonder if this is how she got addicted.
The man was hanging upside-down on a tree branch.
"You're Uchiha Madara," I said.
He fell down. There was a loud thud and crash of twigs. He popped up three trees away, completely unharmed. I was unfazed—this was the kind of thing he did. "Uchiha Madara? Me?"
"I recognized your Sharingan in this book," I said, throwing it to the dirt before me. All Sharingan look the same to the untrained eye, but each has minute and almost completely undetectable differences from person to person, differences so small that only another Sharingan can pick them up. "And your chakra is weird. It isn't normal. And some of the oldest clan histories claim that Madara had been supposedly sighted on several different occasions following his alleged death."
The ninja shrugged. "Hunches. Circumstantial evidence. You can't prove anything."
"So there's something to prove?"
"Of course! I'm Uchiha Madara, one of your forefathers, and you get to talk to me in person! Aren't you excited?" He flung his arms wide, as if expecting a hug. I didn't move. "It's not every day you meet a living, breathing relic."
"I met you two months ago. The novelty's worn off," I pointed out.
He folded his arms. "You're very perceptive. I've been waiting for you to figure it out."
"No real reason."
You wake up in Sunagakure.
You wake up in the Land of Lightning.
Every mission needs shinobi and every shinobi needs a mission and you're just going through the motions of find this man kill this woman obtain this document. Push a button, pull a lever, do your part to keep the wheels of eternal war spinning.
You don't understand any of it, and then you die.
You wake up in the Land of Water.
You wake up in Kusagakure.
Anko is right, I think. We are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.
You wake up in the Land of Stone.
"This is probably illegal," I say.
Anko pulls out the spray paint. "Of course, that's why I'm doing it. Besides, everyone will assume it's that Kyuubi kid."
"Yeah, he does this all the time and doesn't get caught. Despite being six or seven and constantly watched by genin, chūnin, and jonin alike." Anko stopped and laughed. "Come to think of it, he'll be a great ninja if he can keep that up." She misses her chakra-enhanced footing for a second and bangs her face off the side of the Second's head. "Motherf—"
"You're going to be short some teeth if you keep that up," I offer. Anko sticks her bloody tongue out at me.
"Everything falls apart." She starts decorating the Nidaime's left cheek with a giant smiley face. The trails of spray paint slowly run as they dry, making the smiley face look kind of creepy.
I am Taro's Dorky Grin.
She yells for me to come down and help her out, dammit, and I walk down Sarutobi's head and give him some eye lines like mine, just for the hell of it. Anko gets a huge kick out of that.
Madara's over on Anko's other side, defacing the Shodaime Hokage, and I wonder when he got here. "Inventive!" she shouts at him for his use of yellows in the eye and nose areas.
I love Anko.
It's a strong word for a thirteen-year-old to be talking about an eighteen-year-old with. I love her. She doesn't treat me like I am the prettiest and most unique of the snowflakes, and my father hates her, reason enough by itself, and I can sleep when I'm with her. We can lay out under the stars and talk and kiss and her chakra is midnight blue and nothing else and I can fall asleep in her arms and wake up next to her so close that our eyelashes brush each other. With her, I can know what it's like, for a few hours at a time, to be content and complete and perfect.
Anko and I sneak under the Yondaime's chin and make out. This is probably illegal and neither of us cares. Her chakra is midnight blue and tastes like dango, or maybe that's just her breath and I'm trying too hard to purple up my prose.
Despite how happy I am right now, I can feel Madara watching us, and I know whatever he's thinking can't be good.
"This is the greatest moment of your life," Madara says, "and you're missing it."
My arm is aching and my feet are frozen and the river is fighting and fighting and Shisui is fighting and fighting and I'm not here, I'm not, I'm with Sasuke no that won't work because Shisui has the same Uchiha baby face and I can't look at his face right now because he's drowning I'm drowning him I'm drowning I'm with Anko I'm under the night sky I'm anywhere but here.
"Because everything up to now is a story," Madara says, "and everything after now is a story."
I'm not here.
I'm not holding my best friend underwater until he stops struggling and his face is turning blue and slackening and his eyes flicker redblackredblack and I can't even see the betrayal in them anymore.
He can't breathe.
Breathe and don't think.
Close your eyes.
"Don't shut this out," Madara says. "Open your eyes. Listen to me."
I'm not here.
"Someday," Madara says, "you will die, and until you know that, you're useless to me."
Every tear that falls from my eyes falls into the Nakano River. I wonder if Shisui is crying and his tears are mixing with the river water don't think about it breathe breathe you aren't here.
First you have to hit bottom.
This is the greatest moment of our life.
"Come back to the pain."
I'm not here.
"There is no difference between love and ownership. Every bond you make is a possession. You own every person you have ever loved and everything you own will one day own you. It is vital that you understand this," Madara says.
I'm not here. I'm four years old and I'm lost and I'm wandering the battlefield and that man has his guts spewed all over the ground and he's still alive and that kunoichi's head is wrenched around the wrong way and the eyes are boiled and black and staring at me staring staring and the crows are eating the swollen black tongue out of a dead child's head and I am painting the ground with the contents of my stomach and mommy daddy tou-san kaa-san someone anyone no one korosu naide why why why why doshite blood blood is everywhere
"You have to let go. You have to give up first."
May I never be content.
May I never be complete.
May I never be perfect.
Deliver me, Madara, from being perfect and complete.
"You can cry," Madara says, "and it will not matter, but first you have to know that you're stupid and you will die. Look at me."
I'm crying. My eyes sear and my head hurts like white fire no black fire, black fire and black sun and black moon and the tears dripping from my right eye are not tears, they are drops of my blood. Uchiha blood. Shisui's blood.
I am crying Shisui's blood.
Shisui's body is laying at the bottom of the river and I lean over and retch into the water. Damn. Damn it. Madara takes my face in his hands. Liar. Faker. Faker.
"You are breaking your attachments," he tells me. "Only by destroying yourself can you find the greatest power of your spirit. Every man kills the thing he loves."
I'm not here.
Madara's with me for once, and I'm back from a mission. I haven't seen Anko in a while; missions and Madara and the memory of Shisui have been keeping me away from happiness and completion and perfection. I can taste dango and I can't do this right now.
I haven't slept in weeks.
Anko says hi and I say hi and Madara's telling me I'm busy.
She asks what I'm doing.
Anko asks if something's wrong.
Madara's whispering, nothing's wrong.
Anko looks at my uniform. She asks if that's my blood.
I look down.
Some of it, yeah.
It's the night.
Blood is everywhere and for once I'm here for it, I'm here and I'm not here.
When you have insomnia, you can touch nothing and nothing touches you.
A copy of a copy of a copy.
Someone falls off the end of my kunai and I tell myself, I am part of the amazing miracle of death. One minute someone is a person, the next they are cooling, an object.
Only in death do we have names.
Fugaku is last to fall and he snarls and booms and begs at the end and wants to know why and I tell him that we are not beautiful and unique snowflakes and he bleeds out before I can tell him about the man with his guts out and the woman with her head on the wrong way and the child being eaten by carrion birds and how asinine this all really is.
This is what Madara wants me to do.
Sasuke comes in oh god Sasuke don't look and I can see in his eyes the same look that must have been in mine when I was lost on the battlefield and it's the look when we realize that we are stupid and one day we are going to die.
We are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.
We are God's middle children.
These are Madara's words coming out of my mouth.
The shuriken slices his arm and I'm not here and my fist is in his gut and I'm not here and black sun black moon rips into his eyes and his mind and I'm not here and and and
I can't do this.
Deliver me from being perfect and complete and I can't do this, Madara.
Hate me for doing this and despise me for living and live your unsightly life because we are not beautiful and unique snowflakes and cling to life without honor because there is no honor in our lives, Sasuke.
I am Madara's mouth.
I am Madara's hands.
Everything here is part of Madara, and vice versa.
And I tie the hitai-ate back on and one tear comes but no more. My tears are gone. My tears are spent. The wheels of war go right on spinning.
You don't understand any of it, and then you die.
"I was under the impression your mission parameters specified every Uchiha."
I am Taro's Grinding Back Molars.
"And okay, I don't really count because I'm dead or whatever and you don't count because this wasn't a suicide mission, but..."
I am Taro's Raging Bile Duct.
"I count one left."
Shut the hell up.
Madara folds his arms. "I'm disappointed. We were making such progress with your attachments and then you go and pull this on me—"
I am Taro's Clenched Fists.
Do you think it was kind of me, to leave him alive? Do you think living alone for the rest of his life is better than death? Do you think a child survives that without scars? That wasn't kindness, you shit, that was the cruelest thing I've ever done in my life because I am a heartless soulless selfish sick bastard.
"Exactly! Why would you go and do that?"
It's a shame, I say. I used to be such a nice guy.
Anko finds me before I make my escape.
Her eyes are wide with horror and I realize I'm still covered in blood. For the record, none of this is mine.
"What kind of sick game are you playing?" she whispers, eyes horror-struck and her kunai at my throat.
And I try to tell her how it's all self-destruction, like she said, I'm destroying myself to rebuild my spirit, and it's Madara's fault and it's a mission and she's looking at me like I'm insane.
Itachi, Uchiha Madara has been dead for sixty years and you just murdered your entire family.
I know, but you've seen him.
He's been with me on some missions. He helped paint Hokage Mountain that one time, you know, with the yellows, you said it was inventive. He follows me around sometimes in ANBU. He has the mask with the one eye hole and the swirl pattern, I know you've seen him.
Anko is looking at me with creeping horror. "Itachi, no one's been following you. No one but us went out on the mountain that day. No one in ANBU has such a mask and you've been alone for the past three weeks talking to yourself. The Hokage told you to take a few months off, no missions at all. Your family is—was worried and my God, what have you done?"
None at all?
I am Taro's Acidic Stomach Sensation.
Because Madara's been hanging around me, yet has never introduced himself to or been noticed by anyone.
Because Madara never went on that self-destruction soapbox until I'd heard it from Anko.
Because I am Madara's mouth and hands and words and this is the greatest moment of our life and Anko is carrying me I didn't even realize my legs had gone out and
I'm not here.
I tell Madara he's not real and he cracks up.
No, really, I insist. You're a figment of my sleep-deprived imagination and I'm batshit insane and I made you up because people who have been dead for sixty years do not suddenly turn up and hang out with their batshit crazy descendants.
Or maybe I made you up. Maybe you're my schizophrenic hallucination.
I laugh at him and laugh because it's all so funny, really, we are not beautiful and unique snowflakes, and it's really uncomfortable in here.
They come in and ask me why I killed Shisui and I told them I wanted to destroy something beautiful. They ask me why I killed everyone and I told them about the snowflakes and the self-destruction and missions that don't exist and bonds and they look at each other and write something down and I add that I'm batshit crazy and made up Madara in my head, and they look at each other some more and they leave and I'm getting bored in here and maybe I can finally get some sleep.
I wonder how Sasuke's holding up.
Anko walked towards the insane ward, wiping tears as she walked, and almost ran over one ANBU. She apologized and excused herself, and it was kind of funny later because she couldn't remember what his mask looked like and it felt important, but she couldn't remember and soon forgot all about it.
And the ANBU kept walking and the mask kept anyone from seeing the smile he wore.