This is an experiment with contrasts, based off of the anime Naruto and inspired by another fanfic titled Quotidian by the great Firefly :D. The story explores topics such as the value of life, meaning of death, love, and hate.

Characters: Hidan, Shikamaru, Temari, Kakuzu, and others


'This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds

To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance.

A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,

Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.'

-Buddha

Chapter 1 - Autumn Clouds

The silver haired man slammed the book shut and sighing, placed his elbows on his knees. He looked up at the pale blue sky, violet eyes catching the rays in their
eternity. He watched the clouds move, slowly to the left.

He sighed. "As transient as autumn clouds is it?" He watched the clouds for a few moments longer and closed his eyes.

As transient as autumn clouds...

Rushing by...

A flash of lightning...

Impermanent?

The young man frowned. That was a lie. He bit his lip.

"Tch, and to think for a moment there I actually hoped it was a possibility. Fucking heathen's book!" Hidan glared at the green copy of the Dhammapada. He had somehow come across the Buddhist book at a flea market he went to with Kakuzu the previous Saturday. It was absolutely unlike him to grab a copy of a heathen's book and worse, keep it. Buddhists were non-believers, weren't they? The worst kind. All that talk about non-violence, peace, and Nirvana. It sounded too mushy and gooey and passive for the likes of him and his religion.

Yet there was a great deal of talk about pain and suffering in the scriptures too. Something that drew Hidan to the old bookshelf it was exhibited on. Something that made him want to read and find out. His own religion was full of pain and suffering. Pain, suffering, judgment... those were things that had to be delivered to those who didn't believe. To deliver. That was his job, on behalf of his God, Jashin.

But Hidan believed. He believed and trusted in his Lord, Jashin Sama, with every ounce, every sub-atomic particle of his being. And for his faith and loyalty to his Lord was he granted the gift of immortality. He sacrificed for his Lord, prayed every day, tried to please Him, hoped He would be happy, proud of him.

And yet, Hidan occasionally felt unsatisfied. His Gift, his immortality... it made him different. He could not die like any other living being that came to life in this world. He came into this world the same way as everyone else, yet he would not go with them when they passed away into the next. He would not die. He could not. And yet he wanted to.

Every time he performed one of his elaborate rituals, he sure as hell felt the pain and anguish that went through his victims as he stabbed, sliced, and tortured them. In those slow and cherished moments, he imagined what it would be like to go through death: something he would never be able to experience. Something that was deprived him. The very thing that made him stand all alone and apart from everybody else. He paid close attention to how each victim reacted. They were all different. The degree of pain that each one felt when he stabbed here and then there... the fear... the faint memories... It was all unique.

It made him angry and sad at the same time, and he didn't understand why. It felt good, he told himself, when he killed. It felt good to 'feel alive'. But it was, somehow, not enough.

Something was missing. Something big. Perhaps it was the irony he had to live with: to be able to live forever, yet not feel completely alive unless at the expense of somebody else's life. Perhaps it was the fact that life itself had become of little value to him now that he was immortal, and yet everyone else had that very something to cherish for as long as they lived. He had his faith, it was true, but...

"Seriously, what the fuck am I going on about?"

Hidan got up, patting his robe clean of sand.

"What the hell got me thinking about all that deep philosophical shit?"

He looked at the green book.

"Stupid shitty book! Shredding this crap into bits isn't going to do it for me, got to find a better way to fucking destroy this! Totally annihilate this piece of shit!"

... saying which he quickly slipped it into his pocket.

Picking up his scythe, the silver haired man treaded the sand quietly and walked over to his partner. The older masked ninja stood under a bridge, quietly planning out the cheapest, most efficient way to get through their two assignments. He casually glanced up in acknowledgement at his approaching partner and went back to calculating and strategizing. Hidan leaned against the cold hard stone of the bridge they were under.

"Where're we staying tonight?"

"A few miles from Sunagakure," Kakuzu replied gruffly, slightly annoyed at the moment's deviation from his meticulous calculations.

Suna... Hidan slyly shot a glance at Kakuzu, and seeing that his partner was conveniently absorbed in his own thoughts, let out a small, almost inaudible sigh.

Suna... She is... I...

He shook his head and quickly brought his hand up to his face. Shit he thought. This isn't the time to be thinking about her! Fuck! He grabbed a handful of hair. Fuck fuck fuck... His other hand slowly rose to his chest and lay over his heart. "Fuck..." he whispered.

"You're still thinking about her?"

Hidan jumped. Kakuzu's voice had startled him, shaking him back from his memories, his visions, his thoughts. "What the fuck Kakuzu?! Why the hell did you have to go and scare me like that? Shit you've got a really creepy voice you know that?"

Hidan seethed. Not so much because he was taken by surprise, but more by the fact that Kakuzu had that stupid intuition thing going on whenever he tried to think about her. He raised his hand to his scythe and rested it there.

"We're not staying anywhere near that place." Hidan looked away as he said that, biting his lip. His heart raced madly. He wanted to go back to Suna, but not in hell was he ever going to admit it! He was sure it showed on his face and he didn't want Kakuzu to see it.

"Well I'm not willing to pay to stay at any other place since everything else is hell expensive."

"What the fuck Kakuzu, you cheap bastard!" Hidan glowered, his scythe glinting in the sunlight. But Hidan didn't complain further. He just stood there in silence, looking at the distant trees.

"You're still thinking about her aren't you?" Kakuzu smiled behind his mask. Hidan was still silent. Kakuzu stared at his sullen partner, trying to take in his expression, trying to understand what was reeling in his mind.

Hidan straightened his shoulders, hand still on scythe, and started to walk. Kakuzu followed, still smiling. He sure has changed, he thought.

Usually Hidan would start whining and complaining, spewing colourfully assorted strings of sentences at him, cursing and accusing him no end until he developed a severe migraine. However, the last visit to the Sand Village had brought home a different man, and Kakuzu felt like a stranger before him now. It sort of made him sad, but at least there weren't any migraines involved...

The pair wound their way toward the inn, mostly in silence. Hidan seemed to be preoccupied throughout the journey. He became fidgety when they came closer to their destination. The large round residential complexes loomed in to sight in the horizon. Sand lifted from the dunes and wafted over the distant image, blurring the red sky above the scene.

Whilst in their room, Hidan leaned out of the window. The heat was intense. He squinted. There were clouds: red and gold ones. They shifted ever so slowly over the stretch of blood red infinity.

This existence of ours is as transient as the autumn clouds...

He gripped his fingers tightly around the edge of the window sill. The clouds moved above him, changing shape as they passed slowly by, and soon disappeared from his degree of vision.

Changing shape...

Every moment, changing shape... Never the same cloud as before... Changing like emotions, thoughts, experiences, never the same person as before...

Passing by...

Growing, changing, fading away into the distance... Just like the others... Just like everyone else...

Disappearing...

Disappearing. Dying. Becoming... what?

Hidan felt the blunt weight of the green book quietly prod his thigh through his pocket.


Shikamaru yawned. It was getting late, and the heat was maddening. It was making him sleepy. He waited, his back leaning against the wall of somebody else's house.

Konoha was getting ready to turn on its street lamps. Workers trudged silently to their homes. The Shogi boards were brought out into the doorways and families gathered around to watch the game. Children were dragged, kicking and screaming, by their parents, who in turn complained loudly about how they would have to device new methods to remove the dirt stains out of the young ones' dirty garments. Old men took out the bottles and croaked to a lousy meaningless tune. Birds settled in their nests and the cats came out of their slumber.

The ambassador is late.

Shikamaru scratched his head and turned his gaze upwards to look at the reddening evening sky. The chuunin stood there silently as he watched the golden whispy masses float above him.

The clouds had always been a big part of Shikamaru's life. They looked so free and detached, floating at their own pace, unperturbed by what went on around them. They mingled and morphed, but never seemed to mind. They had no friends or family to protect and worry about, no G-cupped hokage to take orders from, no deadlines, and no alarm clocks. They were everything that he couldn't find on earth.

"Sorry I'm late."

Shikamaru turned towards the familiar voice and yawned.

"Hey," he grinned, scratching his head once more. Temari smiled apologetically as she walked towards him.

"Watching the clouds again I suppose?"

"The usual."

Temari smiled. Shikamaru's gaze turned back onto the clouds.

"You look so philosophical."

The chuunin laughed.

"Hmm." Temari followed his gaze and settled her own on the golden shapes. "Why do you do it?" She had asked him that question many times before, but this was probably the only time he was awake to hear her say it.

He turned to look at her. She was looking up intently at the sky, the golden rays dancing in ripples on her skin, trying hard to figure out what he had been looking at. He smiled.

"What do you see in them?" She asked once more, still not taking her teal eyes away from the object of her fascination.

He laughed and cupped his hands behind his head. "I just like watching them. Up there it seems like a whole other world, one that's free from war and noise and sorrow. Even when it rains, it looks so… other-worldly. The earth and the sky… they are two different things. Like oil and water. They don't mix. Sometimes…" His voice trailed off into a contemplative whisper.

"Sometimes?"

"Sometimes I wish I were one of those clouds. It's like… it's like this freedom that you can't find anywhere else on earth."

"Freedom?" She thought about it for a moment. "Is there something holding you down here?"

"Hmm." He stole a sly glance at the jounin. "Lots of things," he replied, shifting his gaze to his feet. "Well," he added quickly, straightening up. "We should get going before it gets dark." He proceeded to walk in the direction of the Konoha gates, his hands still cupped behind his head. Temari silently followed him, her mind still fixed on what he had said about the clouds.

Shikamaru was assigned to escort Temari, Suna's ambassador to Konoha, back to her hometown. Usually Shikamaru would just walk with her up to the gates, after which she continued the rest of the journey on her own. However, the conferences had taken unusually long today and Temari had to commence her journey home late.

The evening sky looked bright and burning just now in Konoha, but she knew it would be black and chilly when they reached Suna. The desert was always harsh. Daytime brought searing temperatures and scorching winds, while the nights brought stillness and biting cold.

Shikamaru glanced at her and smiled. She was still searching the sky for something out of reach. He reached for her hand and took her gently by the wrist. "What are you looking for up there?"

Temari gasped at his touch. She felt his fingers grip her. They were gentle, not rough. His touch didn't hurt her. His touch was different.

Not like his… His grip was different…

Memories that she had pushed to the back of her mind began to slowly resurface. She remembered clearly how he had held her wrists in the rain, demanding, almost begging her to…

No!

She felt his fingers tighten around her wrists. She felt her arms going numb. She remembered the violet eternity that was his eyes. His voice…

No!

Temari gasped again. She looked at Shikamaru confusedly. "What…?"

Shikamaru's thumb softly caressed her wrist-bone. He was still smiling. "Well… I only asked what you were looking for up there. You seem to be a little preoccupied with watching the sky tonight." He chuckled. "Thinking of taking up the hobby after me eh?"

Temari lowered her eyes and forced a smile. "I don't know…" Her voice was a whisper.

"Hmm?" Shikamaru leaned forward towards her.

"I don't know… what I'm looking for. May be it's like you said… freedom?"

"Freedom? From what?" His expressive eyebrows arched pointedly conveying a rare quizzical, yet concerned, expression on his usually unenthusiastic features.

She averted her eyes. She couldn't tell him. She didn't know what she felt herself. It was hate, she told herself over and over. But sometimes she wondered if it really was hate.

She still heard his voice in the depths of her dreams.

Wait for me…

She had waited. She still waited. He was the reason she woke up every morning. The chance to see him again, to hurt him, to loathe his existence; that was what kept her going. But she wasn't sure if it was loathing. Not anymore. The many months that had passed had changed something in her.

He saved me…

But he had saved her only so that she could have another chance to kill him. Yes, he wanted so badly to die. And he had chosen her. He had chosen her to be the one tormented and mentally tortured so much that her will to kill him would consume her. It would consume her so much that she would finally be able to do it, finally be able to complete his selfish desire to end his life and test his faith. But she knew she couldn't. It wasn't because she refused to give him the satisfaction of finally getting what he wanted. It was just that she couldn't.

He played with her mind even when he was not around. He held a strange power over her; a grip over her very existence that she had tried so hard to shake.

You bastard.

"Temari?"

Let me go…

"Nothing, it's nothing."

Freedom… from you…

"Really…?"

Yes, that's what I want… That was what I was looking for… up there…

Temari looked up and smiled at Shikamaru. His look of genuine concern touched her. "Yes, really. I don't really know what I'm looking for up there. But I suppose I do agree with you, about the whole thing being very other-worldly."

And today the clouds are red…

Shikamaru grinned and started to walk, her hand in his. Something was bothering her, he knew it. He could feel it. But he didn't feel like dwelling on it. Working out a woman's mind was a scary project, even if it was Temari. No, it was scarier because it was Temari.

She glanced once more up at the sky as it grew darker by the moment.

The clouds. The clouds keep morphing and moving.

She stared at the red swirl at the back of Shikamaru's chuuunin vest as he walked slightly in front of her.

"Tell me, genius, what good is a world of peace and tranquility if everything in it keeps changing?"

"You know, everything could just change for the better." He laughed inwardly at her sudden equivocally philosophical mood she had decided to adopt for the day.

"But it doesn't ever work that way, does it?"

"Not always, but that's the beauty of change. You don't really know when it's going to get better."

"It's not fair…"

"It's troublesome, but that's just how things are."

Tch!