Title: To Our Youth

Summary: To really get to the bottom of things—the gritty, beer-sludge stained underneath-the-underneath—she will need more alcohol. There's just one teeny, tiny problem. She's out of cash.

Gift fic for Skyrere! You can thank her for this epic plot bunny:) This was actually really hard to write, and took a few days, but overall I'm really pleased with it:)

Published to "Frailty" by MC Xander


Anko is tapping her fingernails on the counter, nevermind the beer-sludge, nevermind that her tapping is driving her nearest neighbors to distraction. They don't dare complain though, oh no. No one complains to Anko while she is drunk, yet not-quite-drunk-enough.

It is a fine line between drunk and not drunk enough, Anko thinks to herself. Where does one end, where does one begin? Ah, she's waxing poetic in her half-sloshed state; either that, or she's having an existential crisis. To really get to the bottom of things—the gritty, beer-sludge stained underneath-the-underneath—she will need more alcohol.

There's just one teeny, tiny problem. She's out of cash.

She won't destroy the bar, no, and she won't intimidate the bartender for free drinks, either. Hokage-sama has made it clear that if Anko abuses bartenders and/or the bars that they tend, then Anko will be forbidden from entering any more bars, ever—even if Tsunade has to send an entire legion of ANBU after Anko to keep her away from sweet, sweet alcohol.

"Lousy Hokage. Lousy bank account. Stupid, lousy, stupid, stupid, shit. Fuck. Lousy," Anko mumbles to herself. Her neighbors on either side of her bar stool scoot away from her, inch by inch, until there is a wide berth around her.

Well, who fucking needs them, anyway? They don't understand her, what it's like—the pressures of being a kunoichi. Men won't take you seriously unless you are twice as bad-ass, twice as terrifying, and ten times more competent than they are on a job. But then, when you've proven yourself to be the strongest gods-damned bitch they've ever seen, when you finally earn their respect—

That's when those same men stop buying you drinks.

Anko leans her forehead into her palm and sighs. "Lousy. Shit. Shit, fuck, fuck, shit." She's so angry, she doesn't know what to do with herself. She needs more alcohol before she implodes, or explodes, or both. Should she even try hitting on a guy, just so he will buy her a drink? Aw, hells no. Maybe she should gamble—except that without any capital to put up, she has no way to earn more money.

Maybe there is someone she can extort for cash, or booze—or both. She swivels her chair around and eyes the ninja at the bar, but there's no one here from her age group, just a bunch of younger chunin. And Tsunade has already had a little "talk" with Anko about threatening the younger ninja and stealing their lunch money; if she's bad, Tsunade will make the ANBU bar Anko from…well, the bars.

Just then, as if in answer to her prayers, Might Guy strides through the bar doors. He is practically glowing with the effusive vigor of "youth," or whatever the fuck.

Anko licks her lips as she regards her prey. "Yo," Anko calls out, a bit too loudly.

"Well if it isn't Anko. If I may say so, you are looking—"

"If you call me youthful, or overflowing with youth—or any of that crap, I will kill you," Anko snarls. "Buy me a drink, nice Guy."

"I—er—"

"Bartender," Anko calls, "bring over a bottle of sake. A good one. Doofus here is paying."

Guy seems momentarily confused; Anko can see his monkey brain thinking things over, slowly, slowly. At last, he ventures, "What is the grandiose occasion for us drinking this celebratory and youthful—hey! What was that for?"

"I'm going to punch you every time you say 'youthful.' Consider it free shock therapy, since you're buying the drinks," Anko replies, smiling for the first time in days. If anything can lift her out of the doldrums of depression, it's going to be picking on the the jolly green beast of Konoha. "It's like a little trade between friends."

"Ah, Anko! That is most youthful—ouch!"

"Sorry Guy," Anko murmurs, "this is what they call tough love." She withdraws her fist from his shoulder, then slaps him on the back, the motion forcing him down into the vacant barstool next to her own. She nods to the bartender and takes the sake bottle from him, inspecting the label; thank the gods, it's not the cheap stuff that tastes like watered down horse piss. It's actually got alcohol in it.

Muttering to herself, she pours the sake into two, chipped cups. She forces one into Guy's hands and clinks her ceramic cup with his.

"Cheers," she half-mutters, half-snarls, before throwing back her head and downing her cup. "Ah, that's better," Anko mumbles, once the liquid burns all the way down her throat and settles into the warm pit of her stomach.

She proceeds to pour herself another, and another, throwing them back with a methodical efficiency. Guy is uncharacteristically silent; he's giving her that look, the look that says that his brain is slowly yet surely turning something over. She can practically hear the cogs turning in his head while he thinks, imagines the groaning sound of gears grown rusty from disuse.

She eyes him suspiciously over the rim of her cup before taking another shot. "Come on Guy, don't leave a lady to get drunk by herself. I was doing that before you came in, and it was depressing."

"Yosh! Forgive me, I was acting most unyou—I mean, most dispassionately! Bottoms up," he says in that overly loud "manly man" voice before finishing his cup and pouring another.

Anko throws back another cup of sake, her eyes narrowed. Something is definitely afoot. It's never a good sign when Konoha's number one blockhead starts thinking, or replacing his catchphrases. It's not like he fears Anko's left-hook; the man's a masochist, she could beat the shit out of'm all day, and he'd bounce right back like an inflatable punching bag, begging for more. No, something is going on here.

Never one for subtlety, Anko growls, "What the hell is up, Guy? You're acting all weird." She narrows her eyes and leans in until her face is an inch from his; he starts to sweat under her infamous death-glare. She pokes him in the forehead with her finger. "What the hell are you thinking?"

Guy leans back with a start, waving his hands in front of him to ward off her glare. "Me? Thinking? Oh, no, I wasn't—I mean—it has nothing to do with a bet, or with Kakashi, if that's what you're thinking."

Anko leans her elbow on the bar counter and snorts. "What bet did you make with Kakashi and why does it involve me?"

Guy laughs at that, an overly ebullient laugh. "Oh no, there's no bet! Ah-ha-ha, no bet at all, my flower."

Anko twitches when he calls her a flower—does she have petals? Is she some kind of fragile pink blossom sighing in the spring breeze? Aw, hells no. Without warning, Anko leaps onto Guy and lands in him in a headlock.

She is no longer on the border between mostly-drunk and not-drunk-enough; she is, officially, drunk. Her inhibitions (if she had any to begin with) have all been washed away by the ambrosia that is alcohol.

"Come on, old pal," she hisses, "don't—hic—lie to me. I spent time on the—hic—interrogation force." She's hoping that her intermittent hiccups aren't ruining the effect of her little speech; it would tarnish her image.

"No, it's not that," Guy sighs, managing to look completely nonplussed despite the fact that he is in a compromising position. "You looked upset, and I figured it must be your birthday."

Anko releases her hold on him as if he had just shocked her with a cattle prod. "What?" she gasps in disbelief, one hand holding onto the bar counter for support. She had forgotten that it was her birthday; or at least, she had pretended to forget.

"It is your birthday, isn't it?" Guy asks, his brow creased.

Anko slaps a hand over his mouth. "Shhhhh, you want everyone to know! Shit fuck! Fuck shit, man!" A few people look their way, but at her burning glare, they quickly go back to their beers and their card-games. As if deflating, Anko lets out a long sigh and sits back down on the barstool.

"You know I don't like my birthday," she whispers, reclaiming her abandoned sake cup and throwing back its contents.

October twenty-fourth ceased to be a happy time just before Anko's eighth birthday, the year of the Kyubi attack. She can remember the thin-lipped ninja who had told her, the jonin's bloodless face and red-rimmed eyes. Your parents are dead, Anko-chan. They died honorable deaths facing the Kyubi and protecting the village; you should be proud.

She can hear the ghost of the woman's voice, see her red eyes in the bottom of her sake cup, before Anko gulps it down. It had taken a long time for the village to recover after the Kyubi attack; the standard things like count the dead bodies, sweep away the rubble, make extra rooms available at the orphanage. By the time the actual mass-funeral had been arranged, the bodies bagged and placed in white caskets bearing the arms of state—

It had been fourteen days after the actual Kyubi attack. October twenty-fourth, if anyone had bothered to mark the date.

Naruto wasn't the only kid in this village who didn't enjoy his birthday.

This morning, Anko had seen death staining the insides of her eyelids as she strained against the sunlight; she had seen red, and skeletal smiles. Okaasan, otousan, why didn't you let me fight beside you? Why did you leave me? Why did you leave me with this host of mommy/daddy issues—an opening for Orochimaru to sink his fangs into?

At the thought, her curse mark itches like an old, festering poison oak infection. They say once you have poison oak, the compounds never leave your bloodstream; like herpes, or any other virus, silently lurking, waiting to reemerge, to reinfect. What Orochimaru has given her itches on her neck, in her veins, and Anko thinks to herself, she thinks, my parents would be so disappointed, if they could see me now.

"Aw, Anko! Birthdays are a time for celebration—" Guy begins, but Anko is shoving a cup of sake in his face and is forcibly pouring it down his throat. He sputters and turns red from the unexpected liquid coursing down his windpipe. Anko merely sighs and leans back against the bar.

Why isn't Guy a hopeless wreck, like she is? After all, it's the anniversary of his parents' death, too; or at least, the anniversary of their funeral. But every year, he is cheerful, even if his usual effusiveness is subdued; he remembers her birthday, even when Anko does not, or pretends not to. He sits by her at the bar, and buys her drinks until she's shit-faced; he doesn't say things are youthful when she asks him not to, and he is uncharacteristically quiet while she drinks.

And later tonight, he will not chide her when he helps her stumble home, will not call her a klutz when she trips over her own two feet. He will help her up the steps to her apartment, just like he has done every year for the past sixteen years. He will hold back her hair when she vomits into the toilet, or onto his shoes, and he will tuck her into bed, and he will call her his flower.

Huh. Flower. She's more like one of those carnivorous flowers that eat unsuspecting arthropods. She's seen them in a hothouse once, a venus flytrap, a pitcher plant. They had smelled sweet, like syrup; pungent, like rotting meat. She had looked inside one of the long, sinuous blooms of the pitcher plant and seen a beetle the size of her fist inside, desiccated, exoskeleton perforated.

Yes, if she is any kind of blossom, she is a carnivorous one, sweet with the smell of rotting flesh, a flower that closes its throat and subsumes life. That's how she feels at least, caustic, acerbic; underneath her thin-veined skin, there is matter, decomposing long after life has left it.

Anko pours herself another drink. Guy is watching her with those silent, wide eyes again; he reminds her of a spider monkey scaling a tree and pausing to examine its surroundings for danger. "Well," she mutters to her drinking companion, "are you going to let me drink this alone?"

She's already had too much to drink; he knows that, she knows that, and she knows that he knows that. Hell, he knows that she knows that he knows, and gods, that makes her brain hurt to even contemplate it. Best not to think, better to drown, to obliterate the past in caustic liquids; let the memories dissolve like exoskeletons in the stomach juices of nightmarish flowers.

Tomorrow, she will wake up with a hangover, she will see the holes inside of her bones and she will weep. Not tonight.

"Tonight," Anko intones with a slur, "we celebrate our youth." She clumsily clinks her cup with Guy's and takes a long drink, as if the alcohol is air and she cannot live without breathing it.

Guy smiles, a big, dopey, genuine grin that splits his face in two. "To our youth," he whispers, and downs his cup of sake with gusto.


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