AN: 6/18/2010. Fanfiction is being a DICK and won't let me centre ANYTHING. Not sure what's up with that. Regardless, it's annoying. Apparently they also took out ALL my divisions, leading to one big mess of a rambling story. I've re-added them, however. Hopefully, this time they'll stay.
Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices. -Voltaire
They call upon her name in secret, as if the very mention of it is something to be ashamed of. They talk endlessly, and for hours, voices old and withered making judgemental decisions about things they possibly couldn't understand.
"Worthless," they say. "She is worthless and she is a traitor. How can she not remember?"
In her defence, it is said she has amnesia. All memories of the painful and rather traumatic event have been repressed, externally, or perhaps by the girl herself. The name Orochimaru makes her scream in terror, and she sobs without shame for hours on end when they talk of him. Regardless, she is nothing but a blank and empty slate. A physical examination also reveals years of what seems to be physical abuse, with acute scar tissue and marred muscle mass that makes her body seem like a pale canvas of brightly splotched purple paint marks.
"Perhaps it's a good thing she doesn't remember," one man suggests. "Perhaps this is fate's way of taking pity on a girl who had far too much taken from her already."
But the Council doesn't seem to agree and the Sandaime's words go ignored until they too call upon his name in secret.
"You must give her a mission," they tell him. "You must give her the mission."
It is a cruel and unthinkable thing to do, especially to a girl so young, but it is for the sake of Konohagakure, and therefore, justified. A mission for Konohagakure, an honourable favor, a good thing.
But there is nothing honourable, nor good about giving an A-class assassination mission to a young (broken) chunin like herself.
With much protest, the Hokage is forced to call upon her name one last time, and this time there is no secret.
Anko Mitarashi is being sent to die.
With no memories and only white space that Anko likes to pretend is a warm, fuzzy happy spot in her mind (but it really isn't, because that space is cold and hurtful and she wishes the whiteness to be black), Sarutobi Hiruzen asks Anko to do a very special thing.
She stands affront the great Hokage, the Sandaime, her saviour, the one man generous enough to show her kindness (or perhaps he is fortunate enough to be charitable), and wonders why after months of solitude (of doing nothing but sitting in apartment, because she can't go on missions and Council sees her to be a threat if she trains) he would summon her to his office.
"The village of Konohagakure calls upon your services in this time of war." He is sorely tempted to add 'Anko' at the end of it, as if to bestow upon the girl a term of familiarity, to let her know he stills cares, that he's still kind, and still guilty after everything he has put her through (because it was no one other than the Sandaime who suggested Orochimaru take on an apprentice…such a horrible idea, a horrible, brilliant, horrible idea…), but remains firm in his resolve, and says nothing, because what he is about to do is horrible (brilliant, but horrible), and he is at will of the Council once again.
He slides a folder towards her, and with caution, she fingers the file with wary (broken) fingers. As she reads, she doesn't seem to realize assassination assignments of this sort are normally meant for members of the ANBU, that the man she is meant to kill is a jounin far beyond her skills, or that she herself is simply an empty, almost useless chunin. Jutsu's flutter through her mind like trickles of dripping water, but her memories are still returning, and so most things are left forgotten, like much of her once prodigal skills.
"And this mission...there is no else?"
"No," he tells her. "You are the only one." Another lie.
There is no other girl (only fourteen years old – weak and miserable and willing to do anything the Hokage orders. No other girl without parents to protest to Sarutobi in private, no sensei to subtly suggest another girl is chosen; someone else, someone far less vulnerable and far more adept) who has the necessary skills. There are no other girls. There is only Anko Mitarashi (fourteen years old, parentless, loyalties lost in the confusion of her abandonment, a girl who lives with secrets she cannot tell).
Worthless, they say. She is worthless and she is a traitor. How can she not remember? How is it that she can lie to our faces and feign innocence? If she cannot give us what we want (and what they want is obvious; but information on her sensei is something she cannot give), then she is better off dead.
If truth be told, there are many others with whom the Sandaime could have given thought to; many other girls far more skilled and far more beautiful, and a myriad of choices far better suited to this particular mission. There are many other girls, girls with enticing smiles and pretty, innocent eyes, girls who unlike Anko look happy and alive, girls who have much more to live for. But Konohagakure wants her dead; the Council wants her dead, and if the Sandaime wanted to be cruel, he could even suggest her former sensei probably wants her dead as well. It is Anko who is the traitor (the scapegoat for her sensei's misdoings) with no answers, and if she can't give them answers, then they're better off without her.
Her chocolate brown eyes swirl with perplexity, widening ever so slightly as her shaky, nimble (broken) fingers search over the mission file with doubt.
"Why, Hokage-sama?" she finally asks without realizing her great mistake. Because surely he wouldn't trust her with such an important task…surely, there is someone more deserving. A more excellent shinobi than herself. But words, sharp and unknown come rushing back to her, and she flinches in pain. Don't ever question the Hokage. Don't ever question your Elders. Don't ever question your teacher, your sensei, me. Him. Him. Him. Be silent and accept your duty willingly, for they know things that you could not. You are tool and I am your wielder. And I will break you. The white blankness in her mind is aching with a dull throb. What is it that she can't remember?
She doesn't know...she hasn't known for quite some time. All she wants is for this pain to go away, for the villagers to stop leering at her, for their angry cries to become silent once again.
"You don't have to accept this, Anko," Sarutobi reminds her. He cannot resist using her name, with fondness, with guilt and regret. With his papers completely abandoned, his aged face scours the young girl's features for some sort of indication of her answer. If she is smart, she will decline this particular mission and go back home to her apartment complex and forget everything she has heard today, like everything she has forgotten in her past. If she is smart, she will realize this is mission she is meant to fail.
But like her sensei said, she was never that smart; just blunt like a battle-worn kunai and strong enough to endure. That is why he chose her, for she was dumb enough to follow, yet strong enough to handle the abuse. Like a stray puppy dog, he told Sarutobi. And knowingly, he used his pet like a lab-rat, because that's all she ever was to him; a pet.
"Having me take on an apprentice was an excellent idea, don't you think, Sarutobi-san? This girl is perfect."
Perfect for following orders and experimenting on and not crying when he struck her relentlessly for her failures.
She bites her lip, but nods her surly head in understanding. She will do as he has asked. She will garner his respect and admiration. She will not be weak (because weakness is unacceptable, right Sensei?)
"Mission accepted, Hokage-sama!" Her face beams with unbecoming brightness; her mood inappropriate and smile ringing with falsities. She will prove herself to this man willing to give her a second chance. She will not let him down. The Hokage nods, clasping his hands together in a display of authority, but he does not let the young girl know he is not at all pleased with her decision.
He secretly hates how happy she looks, her face beaming with the same virtues of a child. Her smile only makes it worse. She grins like an infant, displaying her emotions stupidly and without thought.
Do not be happy with me, child, he wishes to say. Do not think I am giving you a second chance. I am stealing away your innocence once again. You do not remember how you were robbed of it your first time… I once gave you to a man who turned you into a monster, and now I am delivering you into a fate far more cruel.
He is far more guilty than he would care to admit, but is unable to do anything but hide his sins behind his position and mantelpiece. He is the Hokage, Sandaime, shinobi Sarutobi Hiruzen and he is unable to be human and protect this girl from the abject horrors of this world.
"You are to report to Inu-san at 0600 hours," he informs her. "You will need training. He will be waiting for you at the ANBU Head-Quarters."
Again Anko nods, grasping the mission file in her small (broken) hands, and wordlessly, she exits his office through the wooden panel-door.
She cannot hear the guilt in his voice as she leaves, nor can she read his facial expressions (sadness, hurt, regret).
She is white, like the space in her mind, and she is weak, like a slate wiped clean of any of its teachings.
Inu-san will amend these things, the Sandaime thinks. Inu-san will prepare the girl for her mission, just as I have sent her to die.
She calls her teacher Inu-sama, which annoys him, but not as much as how blind she is to her mission. But it's not only that; she annoys him in many other ways as well. Like how she smiles whenever he blatantly points out her mistakes, accepting that she's wrong without question, or the fact that she's still smiling when he hits her to prove a point. Her smile has become menacing, almost to the point of frustration, because he can't understand how someone as screwed up as she is can pretend to be so happy. He has determined her cheery facade is nothing but a mask, and he out of all people can understand the merits of wearing a mask the most, but this still doesn't stop him from being annoyed.
Perhaps it's because he remembered her before she forgot everything. Perhaps it's because he remembered a time when she wasn't always smiling.
On the fourth day of training, he smacks her face and tells her to quit looking so goddamn happy, because it's a geisha's job to look subdued in a frozen, emotionless expression, like that of a Noh mask, and her customers will grow annoyed with her (much like he is) if she's perpetually looking so childish. It will be her job to entice men with as little skin as possible, using only her facial expressions, and if she's lucky these men will come to fantasize about her. So he tries to teach her to express herself like water; seamless and with neverending flow. She must move from a subtle smile to a wantonness pout in a manner that would make even himself grow hard. Her eyes must always follow the expression accordingly, and if that means lowering her lids in a half-drugged daze, then so be it. She must be innocent, yet seductive, coy, albeit immodest all at the same time. For Anko, this task comes as a struggle.
Inu-sama has read over her personal file numerous times, and knows that her psychological profile is not particularly suited for undercover operations such as these. She is blunt and she is all about forth-coming strength. There is nothing decidedly subtle about her personality whatsoever, and childhood memories of a loud-mouth academy girl do nothing to solidify his faith in her. Regardless, he beats it into her, like ordered, that she is to remain silent, at least while she is under his command. She can open her mouth as wide as she likes, as long as he is not around to witness her demise. Loud-mouthed chunin brats are particularly unwanted when it comes to the elusive qualities desired in a geisha. He knows she will make a poor geisha, and this is what they hope for.
Secretly, he hopes for more. His orders are to help her fail, but it doesn't make them right.
One day, Inu-sama touches Anko in a way that makes her unsure how she's supposed to feel. His fingers, pale and cold run softly down her shoulders, and he tells her she is to expect this sort of treatment. Eventually.
"Men will want to sleep with you. Your okiya will set a price for your body. You must learn to be a sensual lover. You mustn't react the way you are right now. Lean in to my touch; do not flinch. Don't close your eyes."
He takes off her shirt and fondles her pre-developed breasts, instructing Anko on the appropriate response needed to garner their attention. But like most things Inu-sama tries to teach her, Anko fares poorly in her lessons. Inu-sama's hands feel strange on her skin, like a bad memory, and she starts to cry.
Abruptly, Inu-sama stops the lesson and gives Anko back her shirt, which she clutches to her chest in what seems to be shame. With a loud crack, he leaves the room and never again after do they return to that sort of teaching. She can't see it, but behind his white dog-mask, he is slightly disturbed.
Inu-sama now knows for sure that Anko is far more broken then he could ever dream of fixing. Perhaps it's a good thing she is going to die...perhaps this will bring her mercy.
"You're name is Shizuko Furasawa," Inu-sama tells her. "You are twelve years old, born in the year of the Tiger. You are too stubborn and too sensitive to be anything else. Your parents are Arata and Tsukiko Furasawa and they are both dead. I am your keeper and I own you. I saved you from death. You are my property and I will sell you when the time is right. You came from a small village named Eiji in the land of Tsuki no Kuni, but that is unimportant and you are most likely to forget it. Like your ninjustu, your elemental affinity is ka, fire. You burn inside with unkempt, uncontrolled chi. Not chakra, but chi. They will see this, Anko, the women in the Miwa will see this, and they will see your energy and they will try to dose your flame in an attempt to control you. You must let them. You are not a shinobi, nor are you a kunoichi. You are malleable and weak-willed and willing to lose yourself for the sake of Konoha. You are a village girl and shinobi are to be feared and revered. You know nothing of them, nor do you display innate curiosity when they are mentioned. Remember this, Anko, otherwise you are likely to be killed."
He weaves for her an elaborate story that she is meant to wear as a disguise. He tries to make the tale as close to her real personality as possible, because quite frankly, he simply cannot image her acting as anything but herself. Hopefully, she will use this to her advantage.
Yet her real name is Anko Mitarashi. She is fourteen years old, born in the year of the Dragon. But Inu-sama thinks she is emotionally delicate (which she is) and far too obstinate for her own good (another truth), and this overshadows her (once) bossy and loud disposition (another thing Orochimaru-sama took from her). Her real parents are Renji and Mayumi Mitarashi, and they are both dead. Inu-sama does not own Anko, but he is preparing her to die. Anko came from the hidden ninja-village of Konohagakure in the land of Hi no Kuni, and that is important and she will never forget. Her elemental affinity is fire, but she can barely remember the techniques Orochimaru-sama taught her, lest the dull, white throbbing in her head comes back. Inside she burns with betrayal and humiliation and she is unfocused. She doesn't want to be put out, but if this mission garners her the respect of the Sandaime (which she already has, but cannot see), she will let it happen. She is a shinobi, as is she a kunoichi. Orochimaru-sama left her weak and malleable, and already she has lost herself because of Konoha. She was never a village girl and always a ninja and she knows they are to be feared and revered, both at the same time. She knows everything about shinobi, but she can't be curious because her thirst for that particular source of knowledge has already been satisfied. Anko knows all this yet does not see that she going on a mission to die.
Anko nods, and repeats the information to Inu-sama on cue.
"You are ready," Inu-sama declares. "Tomorrow, we depart."
At dawn, both Anko and Inu-sama set out from the village's west gate, wearing disguises that let the world know they are a peasant girl and a slave-trader. They head south, then south-west and at the border of Kawi no Kuni, they stop calling each other by their real names.
They pass a large river, onto which they cross a structure known as the Li Suri bridge.
"In six months time," he tells her as they cross the bridge that spans the ravine, "I will be by this river. If you are not here, I will assume it's because you have either failed your mission, or died."
Anko nods her head in understanding. She must find and assassinate her target within the specified time period. She naively believes that she will be able to do it.
As they travel the land, Anko observes it's sloping and full of jagged scars that all bled into the ocean. It is far quieter than Hi no Kuni. There are no hidden villages, and no shinobi politics to play into. But there is a daimyo and an infamous hanamachi district under his jurisdiction called the Miwa. The Miwa is full of beautiful, legendary women, with faces painted white as the moon and lips redder than any cherry blossom flourishing in the spring-time. Inu-sama says the most difficult part of the mission is ahead of them. Inu-sama must successfully sell Anko into servitude of one of the more notable okiyas, despite her age and reputable lack of training.
"Do not speak unless spoken too," Inu-sama hisses. In the dark corner of a tea-house, Anko is prodded and pushed by many fingers of old, gnarled women. Her bones are twisted, her flesh squeezed and skin pinched.
"Too old," many women lament. "Too much ka. Makes poor traits for a geisha."
But Inu-sama will not be deterred. A woman who smokes herbal medicine from a long, thin pipe and has a mean glint in her black, beady eyes sits across the table from Inu-sama, scrutinizing Anko like she is a lump of meat.
"She is too skinny," the woman crows. "Her arms too small. Her body is too big and there is too much ka for even me to control."
"Men like skinny girls," Inu-sama fires back, his face still hidden by means of a foreigners keffiyeh. He roughly grabs Anko by the shoulder and twists her arm in a manner to show the meat on her bones. "And she may be small, but she is wiry. She'd make a good worker."
The woman smoking the pipe considers this, and strokes her sharp-looking chin.
"There is too much chi in her disposition. Too much energy. She will be hard to control. I see it in her eyes."
"Then beat it out of her," Inu-sama coolly replies. "Like I have." He goes to strike Anko, and she flinches, like she is trained to.
"She is still too old."
"She is only twelve."
"She looks older."
"Shizuko!" Inu-sama snaps. His sharp obsidian eyes turn to her, probing her into a well-versed lie. "How old are you?"
Meekly, like Anko was taught to do, she raises her head ever so slightly and speaks.
The older woman stares at Anko, and her eyes narrow. Without warning, she lashes out across the table and grabs Anko by the chin, her gnarled hands cupping the girls face like a hawk would its next meal. There is no gentleness in her touch, and the women's fingers stink of talac and jasmine. Unwittingly, Anko flinches away, but the hand twists her head back in a violent manner that makes Anko want to struggle. She doesn't and the woman's beady, cruel looking eyes stare straight down her throat as if she was trying to see right inside of her.
"Tell me your real age," she demands. Her breath is like rotting nori and it makes Anko feel queasy. "And don't let your puppeteer pull your strings. I want to hear your voice, not his."
"Twelve," Anko answers like she was taught to. "I am twelve. I would not lie to you, Chiyo-basama—,"
The older woman has smacked Anko across the face, leaving a trail of reddening skin in its wake.
"Chiyo-basama," the woman scoffs. "Such impudence from youth these days," she sneers, eying Anko like she is the leftover rice from her last meal. Her beady eyes once again fall upon Inu-sama.
"You have trained your monkey well," she informs Inu-sama. "I don't know where you got this one from, but I can see she is obedient. However do not try to hide this girl's short comings with deception and eloquently woven words. I may be old, but I am not senile and I can see this girl is nothing but a peasant girl."
"I am a fast learner!" Anko impulsively cries out. She cannot fail…this foul smelling woman is her last hope and she will not fail. She must complete this mission. She must garner respect. Respect. She must be adopted into an okiya. She must find Benjiro Bishamon. Will Inu-sama respect her if she kills Benjiro Bishamon? No. Maybe. She doesn't know. She doesn't even know who Inu-sama really is. However, her words earn her another slap across the face and the woman demands her silence.
"Be quiet you urchin! I was not speaking to you!"
Inu-sama shifts in his seat. Anko can sense from the bristle in his chakra flow that he is not pleased.
"Shizuko must learn to hold her tongue," is all Inu-sama can offer to the elder woman. His double-edged reprimand is enough for Anko to bite her tongue and drown on her blood at all costs if need be.
Ashes fall from the woman's pipe, but she makes no effort to clean them off the black wood of the table.
"You present me with an interesting scenario, stranger from the North," she finally says. "With you, you bring a girl who you tell me is malleable and weak, and yet she speaks brazenly against her Elders and has a tongue that runs wild like a dog from the streets. But she is obedient, at least to you, and I can tell she is an adequate liar. But I don't like liars, little Shizuko," the woman says, her gaze falling on Anko, as expected. "The only thing this orphan has going for her is her looks," she continued on. "And sadly, I'm afraid she is nothing special here in the Miwa. She is a mere weed amongst the beautiful flowers that grow in these sacred okiyas."
"I see," Inu-sama says. Anko feels a strange sense of suffocation surrounding her. She has just got here and already her mission is at an end. Inu-sama's firm, hurtful grip grabs Anko's forearm and he violently pushes the girl up from her seat. "She is obviously not qualified enough to work under your terms of service, or anybodies terms, so I shall sell this little rat elsewhere. Come, Shizuko. Perhaps a brothel will take your miserable hide. You have been far too much trouble for me as it is, and I tire of your presence."
"Wait," the elder woman says, her voice smooth and slippery like that of a freshly caught fish. Her eyes are gleaming and Anko realizes this whole meeting has been nothing but a horrible game of politics that she was sadly not aware of. "I did not say I wasn't interested."
Inu-sama forces Anko back down to the floor and eyes the woman with perpetual interest, as if to challenge her belated statement.
"I will take this weed off your hands, but I will not pay full price for such an inferior little girl. I will offer you one third of your asking price, nothing more, nothing less."
Inu-sama says nothing, as if he is considering rejecting the woman's offer. But after a moment, with a look of agitation marring his partially hidden face, he snaps his jaw tightly shut and lets out what seems to sound like a growl.
She notes that Inu-sama is a wonderful actor and would probably do excellent in a situation such as hers.
"I want half," Inu-sama counters. Anko sucks in a sharp breath, as she can't believe her ears. Why would he barter when it is obvious Anko is barely wanted to begin with? But surprisingly enough, the elder simply smiles and pulls out her change purse.
Both barterers know he will not get a better offer anywhere else, even in the red-light district, and selling Anko for half of the original asking price is still a deal.
Money is exchanged and Anko is roughly shoved over to the older women whom she is now instructed to call Okaa-san. Mother. Inu-sama disappears from the tea-house moments later and Anko officially on her own, the mission being her top priority.
"Stupid man," Okaa-san clucks to herself, closing up her change purse. "Such a fool to let you go for such a low price."
This time, Anko wisely says nothing and awaits instruction.
"You do not realize this Shizuko," the woman tells her, "but even though you're filled with too much ka, men like women who have a little warmth to their bodies. When properly trained, you will bring me ten folds the amount of money I paid for you here today. You could be a pretty girl," she says cruelly, her beady eyes glinting in the lamplight, "If only we wiped that farmer's dirt from your face. But don't worry little Shizuko; that will be months from now. For now, you are nothing but my servant and what I tell you do, you will do it. I will extinguish your ka and you will learn only to fan it when I say so."
That evening, Anko was so severely beat that she doubted Inu-sama could have done a better job. Naked and covered in welts from the wet bamboo rods, she curled up onto her tattered tatami mat and tried not to forget this was all for Konohagakure.
A mission for Konohagakure, an honourable favor, a good thing.
She would find Benjiro Bishamon, a ninja who was a frequent patron of the geisha arts. She would find this man and she would kill him, or be killed.
(Because a mission for the good of the village is the most important thing, right Sensei?)