Dedicated to BetaReject, whose latest Star Wars oneshot Dejarik inspired me to write romance about a really twisted couple. If any of you are at all interested in Star Wars, please be sure to read that oneshot, and make sure to leave lots of reviews; you'll see what I'm talking about.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

When they first laid eyes on each other, they were too caught up in symbols and ciphers, too blinded by their own loyalties to see anything but their respective masters, let alone give thought to each other.

Kabuto barely gave notice to the woman standing opposite from him (it never occurred to him that she had for years been cultivating invisibility), instead focusing on Tsunade as the primary threat, pointedly ignoring her in order to show her just how little he thought of her. Shizune did the same.

The first fall of the masks came in heated battle, the sun beating down on their backs. Kabuto got close enough that he could practically feel her breath rolling on his face (unintentionally, but the way he lingered there for a moment was not), and see fear, rage, and humanity screaming behind her mask of a face.

The girl was suddenly much more interesting. Her name… he hadn't gotten her name. He hadn't really been paying attention before.

He certainly was now.

A few chance encounters over weeks and months, and cracks appeared in their masks. They wore masks, both of them, that were almost frighteningly similar, serving their masters, and Kabuto came to one very important conclusion.

Shizune was as good an actor as he. Possibly better, because she had managed to convince everyone around her that her masks were in fact reality, and that she was nothing more than what she appeared. But he wasn't fooled. Kabuto had spent a lifetime cultivating masks and identities and façades out of a need to deceive everyone (the risk only made the task more enticing), and he could tell porcelain from skin when he saw it.

Masks are incredibly brittle things. It only takes one crack to break. They don't bend depending on the wearer's preferences. But once a mask is adopted, it can not be changed out. The actor has to keep it on for the duration, despite the costs.

One night, one of his masks shattered. Then hers. Lines were crossed, glances exchanged, and the playing field took on new dimensions, some unwanted, some welcome. Masks could not disguise trembling hands, nor could they hide burning eyes, any more than they could cast a pall on the burn of physical attraction or what strange fascination had drawn the other's eyes in the first place.

All of their power laid in the truth of the immense influence they held with their masters; it made them possibly more vulnerable than the average soldier, because their security and very livelihood depended on remaining in their masters' separate favors. It made meeting so incredibly dangerous, but that if anything only made them more eager to yield.

They were bound by masks that had lost their appeal, masks that they continued to wear out of devotion, not because they wanted to. Neither Kabuto nor Shizune put a great deal of thought to being discovered; they were in defiance of the masters who had pushed them together and could just as easily tear them apart with equal brutality. If they ever felt guilt or fear, it was only after they had returned to their alien, utterly divergent worlds, and those feelings (along with all others) were quickly and forcibly bottled, swallowed and hidden so they could take up their masks once more.

They used each other's bodies for their own ends, for their own convenience, as an escape, because any other explanation (no matter how true) was too dangerous, too unfamiliar, too human to contemplate. Meanwhile, both were disturbingly aware of how one more of their masks slipped away from their faces and shattered every time they looked at each other. Soon, if they weren't careful, there wouldn't be any left.

And they did nothing to stop it.

Kabuto woke abruptly. As he always did when he woke up in a strange room, a quick sweep was conducted to remind himself of his surroundings.

The hotel room was dark, in contours of inky black and deep coal gray (somehow it was always darkness; they always met in darkness and parted with the coming of the light; he hoped that one day it wouldn't have to be that way), and it provided a comfortable sense of anonymity.

Shizune slept much more soundly than he did, curled up, fast asleep, to his left. She used to call his restless sleep "the sleep of one with a guilty conscience"; a roll of the eyes told her exactly what he thought of that.

She looked so very different when she slept; sometimes, when he was jolted awake by dreams he could never remember, Kabuto would just watch her softened face with a sense of numb fascination. No masks on, no façade, nothing. She looked young and innocent, a sheet of short, ragged hair, dark, fine and dense as a raven's wing, falling across her face; it was almost impossible to believe she was a kunoichi, a trained, merciless killer with skewed morals and no sense of guilt in killing. Her thin arms usually disengaged all thoughts of that nature; a patchwork of scars made her so very different than most medics Kabuto had ever met (he was strangely relieved for that, relieved that there was something that set her apart) and let him know that she was still human, let him know that she wasn't in as much danger of slipping, giving way and being consumed by her masks, as he was, and let him know that she was actually there.

She could shed her masks when she slept. He envied her that.

The back of his finger traced the fine line of her pale jaw lightly; a few memories of the warmth of her mouth, foreign and thrilling as it was, lingered from the night before (They were afflicted by sudden bursts of hasty passion that left them bewildered and exhausted).

Kabuto bent to gently kiss her forehead (Shizune never woke up), smiling slightly, because in the night there was no need for masks, because no one could see his face, and that was when parts of him long buried tended to come out unexpected, before sliding back down and drifting off to sleep.

Poor fool…Poor sweet fool…She isn't thinking about the morning.

In the wan gray light between night and dawn, there would be an almost shamefaced embrace and a soft, quick kiss, before they slipped away back to their separate worlds…

And back to the cold power of the masks they wore.

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