Characters: Ino.

Warnings: pure existential angst. I mean it and I blame it entirely on Sartre. Run away if you are easily depressed ;)


The Three Within

by DreamCharmer

--

(three enemies are watching her; three enemies lie in waiting; three enemies she cannot cut down)

--

one (the void)

Sometimes she can barely feel her own body.

It appears to dissipate, turning into some ethereal substance, its outlines wavering and melting into the cool smoothness of shadows. Inside her, a void seems to open up and fill her with nothingness, a black hole sucking in rational thoughts and feelings, leaving her mind blank and her soul a swirl of gray mists.

Her bones turn light and hollow, like those of a bird, and she can barely keep her feet on the ground. Leaving it even for a moment would be dangerous — she may not find her way back down again. Sounds and noises take their sweet time reaching her, and even pain only sears through her flesh if she realizes it should. She avoids training when it happens.

The odd lightness doesn't bring any happiness; instead, it renders her restless and unable to think straight. She starts to talk loudly and laugh at bad jokes; she engages in random conversations and then abandons them in the middle of a sentence; words tumble out of her mouth without any real meaning attached to them and die, shivering, like homeless kittens.

On these days Ino is sure that people — even her friends and colleagues — have to strain to notice her presence, as if she were invisible or faded into the background. It fills her with fear of disappearing completely, and she begins to seek shelter. A means to tie herself to the material world until this thing passes. Dimly, she remembers that it always does, eventually, but she has to remind herself about it, lest she forget.

As long as it lasts, she drifts slowly down the current, looking for a way to become solid and real again. In that state she cannot handle even thinking about the hard way, so she settles for the easiest one instead. The easiest way lies through men.

Luckily, she has a lot of admirers, many of whom are more than eager to make things between them as horizontal as possible.

She floats until she finds one of them, and latches onto the warmth she is offered, throwing herself into mindless passion, because it's simple and uncomplicated, a here-and-now sort of thing, which is exactly what one needs when reality misbehaves so badly.

By next morning she is whole again and in full control of her senses. She leaves before the other wakes up and asks any awkward questions. Gratitude and love don't necessarily belong together.

(the first is the one she despises; not knowing what your own body is up to is such a nuisance)

--

two (the knife)

Sometimes she recognizes nothing.

And yet at the same time she remembers everything more clearly than ever before.

The face that looks back at her from the silvery depths of the mirror belongs to a beautiful woman, but it cannot be her. It is as if another person had inhabited the body for many years until something happened and she moved out, leaving all her personal belongings for the new owner to take or discard.

She puts on one of the bright outfits Yamanaka Ino seems to have favored, rolls the thoughts of Yamanaka Ino around in her head (trim the rose bushes in the garden, check how the antidote is coming on), and sees to other duties Yamanaka Ino considered important enough to put on her to-do list.

A great deal of them puzzle her to no end. Why are there so many flowers? Why would she prefer to be stuck in a hospital, when the village has dozens of more exciting tasks to offer? Why did she never learn to wield a sword? Who are all these people?

But as soon as a question pops up in her mind, an answer emerges from deep murky waters and chases away all doubts. Somewhere in the mess, she has found a photo album containing the whole biography of the woman she is impersonating, and every pictures has a story to tell.

She wanders around the village, a pistachio ice cream, that Ino apparently liked, in her hand, and discovers every street and every alleyway all over again. From time to time, a warning flashes in front of her eyes, alerting her to the presence of somebody who claims to know her. Most of these people are men, and they offer her drinks, and she nods her agreement. Yamanaka Ino never passes up an opportunity to flirt.

The sensation of relearning the world around her is not entirely unpleasant; in fact, sometimes she almost welcomes it as a respite from daily routine.

In the back of her head, the feeble voice of common sense shouts out to her, commanding her to pull herself together, but she waves it away impatiently; if her own mind decides to play foul tricks on her, and her memory betrays her, she might as well enjoy the side-effects.

Next day, she only remembers feeling slightly unwell.

(the second is a backstabber, but out of the three, she likes this one, the gentle one, best. She can deal with her own mind)

--

three (the ice)

Sometimes she feels like she doesn't belong here.

The sensation always catches her unawares, hits her when she is least prepared; and for all her ninja prowess, again and again she fails to notice its quiet approach.

It can sneak up on her at any moment — any moment at all, because whenever it chooses to pay her a visit, her defenses are lowered. It follows no particular pattern, or at least none that she can discern; months may pass between the onslaughts of uncertainty, or, in other cases, only a couple of weeks.

It always feels the same, though.

Whatever Ino is doing, the world seems to slow down for a split second, trapping her like a fly in molten amber. A devastating wave of hopelessness, of being wasted, crushes into her, knocking the air out of her lungs. Chill emanates from the ground, curling about her feet, seeping through her skin, spreading and crawling up, until it reaches her heart.

And then there is nothing but doubts, and questions, and the horrible sensation of time slipping through her fingers like dry sand, every next day leaving her with less choices and less dreams than the previous one did. Her thoughts are buzzing like angry wasps; she wants to run, to change something, to act. But she stands motionless, because there is nothing to change and no better place to run to.

Her blood seems to turn to icy water in her veins, and she is surprised nobody comments on the sudden change of the weather.

On these days she tries to finish work as soon as possible, because being around other people is unbearable and makes her think she is betraying them, if only in her mind. She heads back home, slips inside her bedroom, locking the door very carefully and very quietly, and stretches out on the bed. She lies there for a long time, her eyes closed tightly, trying to rearrange her wayward thoughts into something decent, trying to regain balance.

With painstaking accuracy, she pictures the faces of her friends, the happy recollections of her childhood, of missions and trainings, of the dangers they've been through — together. The images stand out bright against the darkness of her closed eyelids, and she wills them to linger. They are the anchor that holds her in place when her soul remembers it had wings to fly away once upon a time.

Once, she attempted to trace the miserable feeling back to its source to understand what she was lacking here in the village and where she would rather be, if not in Konoha. She ended up more frustrated than before, because for all she struggled, her mind refused to produce an answer.

Ino knows why.

No matter where she chooses to go — if she ever leaves, which she won't — it will be worse than what she already has in Konoha, what she has earned and built with her own hands. She knows a little about every country on the continent, and none of them seem to bear any similarity to the vague, half-strangled visions of the shining future she wishes for. Ino is almost sure no such thing exists.

She also wishes she had read encyclopedias when she was a child, not fairytales. They must have turned her brain into goo.

She waits until her blood unfreezes, and she feels content with her life again. Then she rises from the bed and goes down to chat with her parents. At this moment, she can't quite understand what it was that came over her.

Still, Ino feels like she has just won one more battle.

(the third is the one she hates most; nothing is worse than being at odds with your own heart)

--

(three enemies she is fighting, three enemies she cannot defeat, three enemies she refuses to surrender to)

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A/N: Oh dear. I have no excuse for that. I was trying to write a nice, angst-free InoShikamaru, and all this existential business kept on getting in the way, so I had to shape into a separate one-shot. Tell me what you think, because I'm not even sure what I myself think about it. Your opinions will be much appreciated. ;)