We're Not the Lucky Ones

Genre: Character study?
Characters/Pairing: Anko and Iruka
Notes: This was written as a request. Prompt was: Anko and Iruka dealing with a child hostage.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or anything associated with it.

Rain splashes wet on the edge of the blade as it opens - metal flower petals - and finds its mark.

Just another little act of violence, Anko says.

Pulls it out of the throat - not her throat, of course - where it was lodged, with her finger hooked in the eyehole, curling down, and her thumb massaging the metal teeth.

Massaging like the lip of a lover after a kiss.

Just another little act of violence in the name of their mission: dead jounin on the ground at her feet, under Anko's bright net of a smile that catches all the uneasy thoughts of her past on their way down. She and Iruka walk together, and talk comfortably, and pleasantly, in the restless forests.

They catch, in the meanwhile, all the anxiety of their lives, holding right behind their grins.

And inside, all inside, Anko still hears the hiss.

Anko kisses her kunai with her fingers like she'll never kiss flesh again. Never, or probably. Maybe. She doesn't know. Doesn't care.

Anko is Anko. Anko-in-the-morning, waking up for missions at five fucking o'clock some days and letting her coffee cup know what she thinks of that as it flies out of her hands like a lethal weapon and smashes into bits off the wall. Anko sleeps until eleven or twelve when she can, when she has the luxury, and that's what she prefers.

Anko is Anko-alone: always alone. Do you think she's lonely? she hears people ask, sometimes, and she turns, always a big: Fuck no, I'm not. No brothers, no sisters, and it's just as well. Look at those Uchiha, those Hyuuga: crazy bastards. Yeah, her parents died when she was young. Yeah, whose didn't? Doesn't give you an excuse to go and be a royal fuck-up, she tells Iruka, when they do talk, and she isn't talking to him, or about him.

Anko is Anko-alone: doesn't want to be involved in causes, doesn't care. Just let me study to pass my re-examinations, man. She wants to tell them she's a kunoichi - a shinobi - not a politician, or a government official, or a babysitter for kids like Naruto. Fuck all that noise.

You can care too much, she thinks. You sure can care way too much. Or maybe it's just that she thinks she's not the right person to care: the great nations can sort out their wars. She's concerned with bringing home food and drinking her coffee and sleeping until eleven or twelve when she can.

Anko-in-the-morning, Anko-alone, Anko-with-the-boys - always with the boys, never with the boys, and what does that mean? not a damn thing - Anko-anxious, Anko-apathetic, Anko-who-walked with snakes and returned from the shadow of death.

Anko-after-dark stabs her dango with a toothpick and pops it into her mouth and she notices people watching sometimes; maybe some man sometimes, maybe someone like Genma, who also holds things in his mouth, and Anko grins back: shinobi say more with their mouths than their mouths say. Sometimes. Anko-in-the-afternoon has a kick to her motions, not a sway to her hips, but the eyes follow her anyway, or glance at her. All those cool eyes above those mouths smoking cigarettes or chewing sticks and those hard jaws and those words they'll never say that she hears clear as day. Eyes - pretty eyes with mascara and kohl linings - watching like they wish she'd just take a side, like she'd come to them and talk or else go away: you're a kunoichi, Anko. Talk with us.

Stop trying to be a boy.

But they're adults. They're professionals, of a sort. They don't, and can't, think these things, or talk this way. So maybe it's just her imagination saying these words that no one ever says.

Anko-the-professional is very professional: that good sharp professionalism that tracks missing-nin, that cornered a rogue jounin from the River Country and struck him down without a word. Anko had a genin team she taught for a while, but she wasn't good with kids; has never been. She's more about the lines and angles. Studies hard, but she doesn't study as hard as some, and she won't. It was worth it to some: to Itachi, and look what happened to that kid. It's always been worth it to the Uchiha, the Hyuuga, and look at them. Just look at them.

Yeah, she's nothing like that.

Now, she and Ibiki are friends, kind of. Not in the way that some people are friends, but they get along, and they understand each other. They understand that distances are important for them, and they understand that it's business, all business, always. She leaps out like the snake from the grass and sends the bodies down; he picks them up again and pries out the answers. This is the way Anko knows the world to work.

Anko-the-professional returns to her Hidden Village before the dawn, dog-tired, bleeding and brusied and satisfied, walking with that jerk that's not a sway that catches people's eyes, and collapses into the bed and sleeps till eleven. Wakes and drinks about thirty cups of coffee. Repeat.

Anko walked with the snakes, and Anko is back.

Anko wonders what it's all for, but it doesn't matter - not when she drinks life from her coffee cup, two quarts every day.

They're in the border town of Fire Country, nearing Wind Country, and Anko thinks Iruka never wonders what it's all for.

"What're you thinking?" she asks. Not like she really wants to know.

He shrugs.

"This one is nine," she says. Not like she really wants to go there, to discuss this. Her hands tighten and release at her sides, and her coat sways behind her, long and tan and worn until it's comfortable as can be.

Iruka deals with kids. He deals with kids everyday - the sullen ones, and the small ones, the big ones, and the ones with grabby fingers who laugh a lot and try too hard or are afraid of trying. This could've been one of his. Maybe that's what he's thinking. This could've been Naruto.

Ah, hell. They'll retrieve the child. What does it matter? They're shinobi from the best village on the map.

But Anko doesn't say that.

She kisses the edge of her blade and her fingers slide back through loose jutsu motions, always thinking through the motions, even as she makes her bed on the dirty forest floor hidden under the trees and drifts off to the soft, soft patter of the rain.

There are times when the hissing overtakes her dreams.

She wakes up so hard she gets whiplash, from time to time. For how long did you dance with the devil who taught you those small acts of violence?

And she can't forget the lair, but it's been years. And she can't forget the things that almost killed her, but it's stupid, really, because they didn't. She didn't die. Just a black spot on her neck. Not a place where his teeth have been into her.

Yeah, Anko is an adult. She can smoke and drink and fuck - if she wanted - and kill and do anything she pleases. Anko-alone, alone, alone. Sometimes it's like the seal is bleeding. Hurting, as if there's something inside that wants out - as if it's trying to burst from her.

She sits up at midnight, walks around outside with her bare feet treading the cool wet grass, and she's not afraid of the snakes.

Not just unafraid: it's more like.

It's more like -

Anko sharpens her blades. Picks up a rock and makes them shine for her.

It's more like she's home.

Children grow up. Really, they do. They grow out of snakes and the romance with danger (well, okay, maybe not); they grow into making friends with people and, sure, they still play with sharp objects on occasion, but isn't that a part of the job description here?

"I lost my parents at about the same age Naruto lost his," Iruka tells Anko, when Anko wakes up wet from the rain, shivering under her blanket. He's standing, and looks like he's been awake for a while, and the morning is coming down through the tree canopy. They've hidden themselves away well, but that doesn't mean death can't come from around a corner - any corner.

Iruka is checking all his weapons; checking his sleeves, his ankles, where things are pocketed away, adjusting his shoes and straightening his hitai-ate, and then, still so precisely, he's digging in the bag and making sure they still have all their supplies: check, check, check. Nothing's been eaten or invaded by animals. Nothing's fallen out. It's all in its proper order.

How can you stand it, Anko wants to ask him. How can you fucking stand it, man.

"He's a good kid, though," Iruka says, and, over his shoulder, "You know, you remind me of him."

"What's that supposed to mean?" she asks before she thinks to stop herself.


He shrugs.

"Same energy, I guess."

What Anko hears is: you're really so alone.

"You are, too," she mutters, under her breath.

He doesn't hear. He's already gone on, with the leaves crackling under his feet.

Three days and three battles pass, and they're on their way back from the border town.

Anko has washed her face in the river, trying not to think of how much she wanted to lick the blood off. She didn't, though, not in the sight of the others. And maybe she should've.

Iruka has the kid with him: turns out, it was a girl. Nine years old, just as promised. She - or someone - has hacked her hair off, but not well; it's all jagged on one side, and will have to be cut properly once they get home to Konohagakure.

Three battles, and ten dead, and the snakes never came out.

Iruka and the kid have been talking.

Anko has pretended not to notice. That's what Iruka does: he deals with kids. She's never really done it: she's no good at that shit. Better to just let them talk. Better to let him comfort her, re-assure her that there's a life waiting for her, even though her parents were killed.

The kid was held hostage, and her parents were killed before her eyes, but she doesn't have a black mark on her neck, in her soul. And she has years ahead of her. She'll recover. She has to. And Iruka isn't anything like . . . he's a good guy, Anko guesses. He'll see to it that she recovers. She's not alone, is she?

Yeah, none of us are the lucky ones, Anko thinks, and looks back at herself as she washes her face.

"She wants to talk to you," Iruka says, and touches Anko's shoulder.

Anko doesn't jump. Doesn't jab her fingers right into his throat. But there was a time, a few years back, when she might have.

"Heh. What for?"

"This is a mission," Iruka says, a little more sternly.

"Heh. I know that."

"Don't think -" His tone surprises her. "- I haven't noticed how you've been avoiding me, us, the whole way back. You're always wandering off, or scouting ahead."

"You think you're trying to make me something I'm not?" Anko blurts, out of the side of her mouth, well before she can stop herself. And it's not him she's talking to, not really. It's all of them. Konoha. The world. The snakes in the grass hissing through her whenever she speaks. "I'm not - damn it, this isn't my territory!"

"Konoha is your territory," he responds, gently now.

She wonders if he's acquired these tones from all his years teaching the kiddies: firm like he's giving her a lecture, or soft like he's coaxing her and tricking her into doing something she never signed up for, like he's playing with reverse psychology or something. Damn. She has to admit, she's not unimpressed with that.

"You don't understand a damned thing, man."

And what she means - but doesn't mean to mean - is that he can't. He can't understand what she went through. No one can. And it shocks her, when she realizes she was thinking that, because she's an adult, and a professional, and Anko-alone, Anko-in-the-afternoon, and fuck, what does it matter anymore, all those yesterdays?

"I understand that she's alone, too," he says, "and I understand that we don't have to be."

For her part, Anko gives a long-suffering sigh.

Almost home now.

Anko crouches at the bend of the river and runs her wet fingers through her hair; brushes down the parts that flip up. She undoes her clip, and fixes it.

There's a snake hissing nearby.

She doesn't hear it so much as feel it, and she taps her fingers to her knees.

Damn it.

Why, after all this time, is it still like this? Why is everything still so fucking - restless? Anko's not looking at the water as she bites her lip. She told him: she's not good at this shit. She's not good at. She's not good at looking at these things, okay? But she couldn't have told him that, either. She's just -

Another sound breaks the relative silence.

Anko turns.

The kid is standing there, looking on.

The kid is standing there: the girl, with bare knees, and ridiculous chopped off brown hair and puffy round kid cheeks. The kid is standing there, chewing her lips, and her parents are dead, and she won't talk much, Iruka has said, and for all they know, and she's clothed but bare, wearing her wounds, wearing them from the inside out, bare and coming here, open as only children can be.

Open, with eyes like Anko's seen before, endless brown.

Anko's smile comes slowly, out of the side of her mouth.

Lifts the curtain of her lip to give a peek into herself.

"What's your name, kid?"

"Moriko," the kid says, quietly, but not apologetically.

"Moriko. Nice name. C'mere."

And she tells her her own name, and holds up a long, slick knife - the kind that can flower open to serrated edges that'll scoop a heart right out - and the kid looks wary at first, but Anko says: hey, relax. I'll show you the bum's way of catching fish.

"It's pretty," the kid says.

After three more little acts of violence, the kid adds, "Wow. You're good at this!"

And says it with this real air of wonder that surprises Anko, who's getting the fish ready to cook. She pauses for a second, covers herself back up with her smile, and begins dinner. "Heh," is all of her reply.

I can't give you your family back, kid, she thinks. I can't give you much of anything, except this. I'm sorry. It's not enough, and it never will be, but maybe it's something.

The snake is still hissing, somewhere. Anko talks over it: "C'mere." Again. "I'll show you another trick."

And the girl comes - to the dirty open palm that waves to her - and watches. Crouches and slaps her knees with her scraped up hands, and watches.

Watches with endless brown eyes like Anko has known, all into the evening, until Iruka returns.