odd little ficlet here, I must admit. I'd been toying around with this idea for a while but once I started writing it turned out a lot darker than I intended. But I think I love it. It's a lot shorter than anything I've ever done as you'll notice.
I should warn that there are adult themes; maybe some will find it offensive but I could be overestimating. Others could find it stupidly lukewarm and I'm just overreacting- but I just wanted to warn everyone.
Please review and let me know if you liked it!
I know this is definitely not what ANBU life would be like in Naruto, but I wanted to explore this angle of ninja life, either way.
Thanks for reading!
When you leave for the ANBU camp, you don't understand.
And when you come back from the ANBU camp, they don't understand.
Because ANBU isn't a state of mind and it isn't a lifestyle and it isn't a club that only some belong to.
It's a ditch.
It's a ditch that you're thrown into. Kicked into head...feet...hands first. And when you land in the mud and begin to crawl your way out, scrambling through the dirt and the grains and the other desperate bodies, you only realise when you reach the top...that you should have stayed in the ditch.
Because the mud in your eyes won't move. The dirt in your fingernails never shifts. And the blood on your hands never disappears.
And in the ditch...there was less mud somehow. Less dirt and less blood.
Maybe it was because everyone else was covered in dirt and blood too. But there was never as much.
You leave home at the age of naivety. And your youth never returns home with you. But then...neither does a lot of you.
There isn't much to be said for 'spirit' in ANBU camp. Nor 'hope', nor 'faith'...nor 'light'. Those things don't exist there. And if they existed in your heart before you came, then you killed them along with a whole lot of other people whilst you were there.
ANBU camp hurts. It stings and it burns through your body like a branding. Like a tattoo on your left shoulder that would still be there even if someone had never inked it there.
He feels it. He feels it without even thinking of it.
His left arm is heavier than his right. It weighs him down...makes him slouch his shoulder.
If someone he once knew had talked to him now, they would have said that his shoulders were always slouched. In the old days.
Now it's just his left. Like his right is desperate for the highness of the sun and the light that he once knew.
His left knows better.
Shikamaru wonders why the Hokage chose him.
Was it because he looked like a torturer?
Or a murderer?
Or someone who never thinks?
Who will do whatever he is told?
Regardless of all that...that's what he is now.
A mindless murderer.
Three years ago the title would have stung him.
Now it's right there on his body...beneath his tattoo. As much a part of him as his eyes or his hair.
He remembers the first day. He remembers travelling in a boarded up train so he couldn't see where he was going.
There was no one else in the carriage.
Just him and his shadows.
And then he arrived. He arrived to the ditch. The one he should have never left.
He remembers seeing her there. Remembers snorting derisively at her presence.
Silly woman. If she wasn't the Kazekage's sister she would never have been chosen at all.
Now, Shikamaru thinks...if the Kazekage knew what it was like- he would never have sent his only sister to bear through it all.
She is the only one he recognises out of all twenty of them.
All twenty of them standing there in their normal clothes.
"Strip" the man in charge barks.
And Shikamaru furrows his brow and looks around at the rest of them.
Some look like they have misheard him. Others realise exactly what he has said.
Some of the men begin to pull off their shirts, eyes gracefully averted from the four women that there are amongst them.
Shikamaru does the same, eyes staring straight at the ground as he removes his clothes. He regrets it when he sees a sand hitai-ate hit the ground.
Then they all stand there, naked. It's cold and freezing, but Shikamaru doesn't care.
Asuma told him about this bit.
He assumed some of the women would complain. But none of them do.
The man barks at them to pick up their hitai-ate, before tossing twenty kunai at each of them.
They have to put a scratch through the middle. Because they are no longer Konoha. They are no longer Suna.
They are ANBU.
Temari complies right away, Shikamaru notices from the quick flit of her wrist.
It's a little harder for him.
He remembers the day Asuma gave him his hitai-ate.
But he does it anyways. It's less troublesome than getting beaten.
Which is what happens to the boy who refuses.
They are the given uniforms.
Then they sleep in the ditch.
He remembers his first torture.
The screams fill his head at night.
He knows now why they wear the mask.
It's not for protection and it's not for identity.
It's for their sanity. For the little of it that they have left afterwards.
When he sees them in his dreams, he can only see through the small eyeholes that his mask allowed.
Maybe that way, there was less blood. Less carnage.
But the sounds of bones cracking and the screams...they are still there.
He didn't know what the man had done. He didn't know what he looked like- the black bag covered his head. He didn't know who he was or who he had killed.
Yet sometimes he feels like he knows that man better than anyone else on earth.
He knows the sound that a kunai makes as it slides across his flesh.
He knows the way the man's throat bobs and his eyes buldge as his shadows close around his neck.
It was the third last test of ANBU camp. But it was the hardest.
He couldn't kill the man. If he did, he failed.
He couldn't choke the man so that he couldn't talk. If he did, he failed.
He could only hurt him...to the point of wanting death.
Shikamaru passed the test.
He should have failed.
Because maybe he didn't kill the man...but he killed himself.
He remembers falling into the ditch after he passed.
The mud smelt more than it had before. And it was wetter and the moon was duller and the clouds in the sky were still. Unmoving.
Her hand encloses around his and suddenly it is warm. And he can remember home and the chunin exams and Sasuke.
How he wishes that Sasuke would threaten now, so that he could leave and fight someone like him once more.
Someone with no emotion. Someone who hates so openly.
Not the people he is forced to decapitate. People with families and houses and homes just like his.
He squeezes her hand back, because she went through the same just hours ago.
And he hopes that if some part of her has died, it wasn't the troublesome part. Because things are no longer troublesome. They are only ever deathly. They are only ever black.
Troublesome, Shikamaru thinks, was a shade of grey. One that he liked.
He could not deal with an un-grey Temari.
He loses count of how many he has killed.
Most days it is like a death camp.
They sit in a room filled with bodies and the men herd the people in and Shikamaru kills.
The bodies continue to pile up and Shikamaru begins to stop thinking.
Because he can't divert his mind. If he does it just goes to home. Or the clouds. Or her.
And none of those things exist anymore.
Konoha isn't his home and the clouds never move anymore. And Temari sits beside him and kills the ones he doesn't and he feels like he never even knew her.
He doesn't now.
He remembers her berating him for crying for Choji.
And now he wishes that he could cry.
He thinks he has forgotten how.
Because no matter what he does the tears won't come.
He thinks of the boys. The children of the parents he's killed. And there is nothing.
He thinks of Asuma and his father and Inoichi. And there is nothing.
He thinks of the old him.
He wonders sometimes if she cries.
She did once...before...a long time ago before the camp. He cannot remember why. But he remembers her eyes when she did. Like waterfalls.
He hopes that she does cry. He prays for her to have tears.
People who know nothing despise tears. He finds that he misses them the most.
In their third year they are split into groups and sent out to kill whomever they are ordered to.
He is joined with Temari.
In ANBU camp there is no third medical ninja.
If you get hit...you die.
Your fault for getting hit.
Sometimes Shikamaru thinks that some get hit on purpose.
There are only twelve of them left after three years.
Two left, four died and the other two disappeared.
'Disappeared' is the ANBU term for suicide.
If you commit suicide you aren't worthy of death, in ANBU eyes.
He and Temari journey round the land, speaking little and eating even less.
They are both so much thinner now.
Sometimes they fight- most times it is over who gets to kill who. He always wants men; those who remind him of himself three years ago. She always wants them all. At first he thought she was trying to save him from something.
Now he realises that she needs all the kills she can get. If she stops, she'll start remembering.
There are days when they don't bother washing and after a week they'll examine their skin only to discover that it's been dyed red; their kunai rusted from the colour, her hair filled with the stench.
When there is no one to kill, they try to kill each other.
They both know they never will; because if they do, they fail.
He looks at her as she sleeps sometimes and remembers that she used to be pretty. A full face, coloured lips and cheeks and sparkling eyes.
He would say she was a corpse if he didn't know any better, now.
Cheeks so gaunt, skin so grey and fingers bonier than any skeletons.
He knows he looks the same. He thinks sometimes that his eyes are blacker.
Their hair now reaches their lower backs.
After a while you stop thinking about things like hair length.
They pass their year of journeying.
Now there is two years of service.
He learns that Temari will have a new partner.
He is told that if he wishes to continue with Temari he must kill her new partner.
So he does.
They spend the two years answering to both the Kazekage and the Hokage whenever they call.
Shikamaru has no idea who the Hokage is anymore. He assumes Gaara is still Suna's leader.
He isn't, he learns from Temari. Gaara died a year ago.
He isn't surprised. He doubts if he was told his mother was dead he'd feel anything.
They move anywhere and everywhere. It doesn't matter. It all looks the same.
So, too, do the victims. They have lost all gender, all features...all faces.
They are now bodies. He is concerned with one thing- their hearts. Beating or still?
The two years fly in. Because each day is the same.
And then it is over.
He had a girlfriend when he left for ANBU camp.
She is waiting for him when he comes home.
She is untroublesome and plain.
It occurs to him, as he wanders through Konoha gates that at twenty-four he is still a virgin.
The thought of sex makes him feel sick.
The idea of skin against skin only makes him think of the time he stripped a woman naked in front of her husband so that he would talk.
He thinks it will be a while before he will marry.
Konoha is like a culture shock. One that makes him dizzy and ill and violently sweaty.
Everything is so bright. It should be a crime.
Ino's hair- since when did people have hair that colour?
And he cannot get over Choji's size- how was there ever enough food to make him that big?
He blinks at least six times every ten seconds, trying to adjust his eyes. But they just won't.
His eyes feel like acid against his eyelids. He wants so badly to go back to the forest and never leave.
His mother berates him for being so skinny. She touches his stomach and in seconds, he has her pinned to the floor, a kunai piercing her neck.
How does he apologise for a reflex?
He goes to bed with his girlfriend that night. He sleeps in his full ANBU uniform, and vomits in the bathroom when she undresses in front of him.
Crawling into bed, he somehow drifts into sleep. He thinks it is because his mind cannot bear the thought of being so near to another human being that it prefers to be shut down completely.
He is awoken in the middle of the night by screams, only to find that his shadows are trying to strangle the woman next to him whilst he slept.
Having to remind himself not to finish her off, he bolts out of the house and he runs.
Runs straight to the forest, where it is dark and he cannot see the moon or the stars. Only the blackness of the trees. Exactly as they should be.
He thinks of Konoha- where everyone is the same.
Everyone is exactly the opposite of him.
All happy and full and colourful.
He is now only black.
He can only remember one person who is as black as he is.
So he runs to Suna.
And he knows that when he enters through her window she will try to break his leg and he will try to break her arm because she'll attack him for entering uninvited and he'll retaliate even though he should be apologetic.
He arrives at night and enters through her window.
And she was already awake before he had entered the gates, but that doesn't surprise him. He can count the number of hours he sleeps in a week on two hands.
She goes for his leg with her katana, but he dodges because he remembers all of her moves. And she sees that it is him but still keeps fighting. And he loves her for it.
And when they are finished and lying panting on the floor because she has broken his leg and he's cracked eight of her ribs, he finally looks at her.
And she has never looked more beautiful to him. All gaunt and ill, looking so close to death and starvation that he longs to be near to her. She is what he is. She has been through what he has been through.
She knows him better than anyone.
Because when her ribs cracked, he felt his own break. And as his leg snapped, he swore that she clutched at her own thigh.
He was mad to leave her, he thinks. Why would he, when she is the only one like him?
They lie on her bed and talk after the fight.
It is odd, but he thinks that he hasn't heard her voice properly since she left Konoha's gates, telling him to become a jounin.
He tells her of his attempt to kill both his mother and his girlfriend. She laughs derisively and when she tells him that she hasn't told anyone of her return...that he is the first person she has seen since she left ANBU camp...he thinks it is what he should have done.
They fall asleep and in the night, he is awoken by his own shadows trying to strangle her in his sleep.
She fights them off and goes back to sleep.
In the morning, he asks her what she wants to do.
If she wants to stay here, in Suna.
He can see it in her eyes that she doesn't.
They are caught in a dilemma; if they leave they are no longer state sanctioned murders- merely common criminals, who will eventually be at the mercy of their own ANBU forces. If they stay, they will kill all round them.
They turn in their scratched hitai-ate's together, and when her hand slips into his and he breaks three of her fingers, she smiles oddly and ignores the receptionists look of horror.
They walk through the gates of Suna, in their normal clothes. But they may as well be naked.
Entering into the darkness of the forest with Temari, he feels at home. He feels dead inside. And it feels wonderful.
There is no point trying to make him live again; not when so much of him is buried.
They kill anyone and everyone who comes across their path, still fighting over who gets who.
He knows those bodies will be the death of him someday, when the ANBU find them and resolve to find him...and her. But he doesn't care.
If he's not killing then he may as well be dead.
He knows she feels the same.
In the end, the first time they have sex, comes from a fight. No one had passed by in a few days and they were both tense. She was still as good a fighter as he remembered...only this time- there was more in her.
He had been taught in ANBU to use rape as a weapon. He never had. But this time he did. Only half way through she stopped kicking and fighting against him...and suddenly it wasn't a fight anymore.
It was another two years before they kissed. They were standing in the rain, in some odd village with no electricity and mountains surrounding the south of it and an old ANBU commander of theirs passed by.
Had he seen them together, he would have known that something was up. They were supposed to be serving their respective countries.
So he grabbed Temari and kissed her against the wall, so the commander wouldn't see their faces. And when the commander passed by, he didn't stop. He flinched half way through to realise that she was warm. Even in the rain.
She was supposed to be cold.
Looking at her, she was a little fuller...a little less grey.
For the first time in nine years, Shikamaru looked in the mirror...and saw something not so dissimilar to what he once was.
Maybe they were making their way back to life.
They were caught when he went to get food once for the both of them.
Twenty ANBU took Temari on her own, and he only knew that it had been the ANBU because he saw the cracked masks on seven of the dead bodies lying around their camp.
In the end, Shikamaru 'disappeared'.
The world wasn't the world without Temari.
They would have gotten him soon either way.
He knew they would have decapitated her and he smiled to remember the time she came close to doing so to him.
Closing his eyes as his shadows enclosed around his neck, he could feel his heart thumping in his chest and the blood pumping in his veins.
For the first time, he was excited.
For the first time, he was alive.