Disclaimer: I don't own. Quotes and references are Shakespeare, and he's in the public domain.
The title was NOT taken from John Green; we got it from the same place, Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar. Just to clear that up. Quote at the bottom from As You Like it.
:and with this came the realization that they could have been great:.
They were the perfect recipe for disaster: the prodigal, the antihero, and the pariah. She was too loud, he too volatile, he too desperate. But the world was their stage, and they were the actors, bravado and presence and melodrama.
Real life, she reflected dimly, could just barely contain them.
Ino was stumbling through what used to be a forest, pursued by every demon under the stars. It seemed that way, at least; whatever they were, they were immune to all genjutsu and her weapons pouch had long since been depleted and dammit, where's Sakura and her super strength when you need her?
The truth of the matter was: Ino was holding out for a miracle. Her team was – most likely – dead, her partner was gods-know-where, and holy shit, is that what I think it is?
Not a miracle. Sanctuary.
There was a little hut, there, just past the ravine – Ino knew that it was most likely a futile effort, but a hut meant shelter and boundaries and boundaries meant that she could at least attempt to ward herself.
But what if someone's in there…?
There was one way to find out. Ino took the chance – she cleared the ravine in one desperate, chakra-fused jump and used the momentum to vault over the barbed-wire fence.
The door, to her relief, wasn't locked. She slammed it shut and bit on her thumb, marked the door with an 'X.' She made the appropriate hand seals and braced herself, unsure of what was going to - -
She knew her pursuers had stopped. She had yet to breathe a sigh of relief at the silence when someone cleared his throat and said, "That was highly unnecessary."
Ino's eyes widened. She whirled around and saw that the hut wasn't abandoned like she had hoped and that, in fact, it was already inhabited by a very befuddled looking young man.
Said befuddled inhabitant had shoulder-length silver hair, red dots above his eyes that probably denoted some kind of clan rank, and was sitting at makeshift wooden table on a makeshift wooden stool, drinking tea.
I could take him, Ino thought to herself. He had no weapons, and she felt no chakra, she could if she had to.
"Sorry," Ino said, "I, uh – is this yours?"
Ino isn't quite sure how, but not long after this she's sitting in her own makeshift stool at the makeshift table and a stranger's offering her tea. He's polite, if lacking a little finesse; moments after she sits, he says, "There's a pump in the back if you want to wash up."
Ino nods, acutely aware of the grime that must be settled all over her. She can suddenly feel her injuries, too – a gash on her calf and burns on her left arm. She stands and makes her way to the back of the cabin. It takes a few tries, and at first the water's rusty, but it's suitable enough. She focuses on washing, on everything but being pursued, on everything but the burning and the demons running and the war, the bodies -
She scrubs her face until it's raw, then her arms, hands, and leg around the wound. There's no soap and the water's cold, but Ino feels loads better – especially after letting the water run through her hair. She can only imagine what a mess it is.
The cabin is more or less a large flat. There's an alcove where the pump is, a drain for the water, and a bar that might have held a shower curtain once upon a time. There's two or three closets, a wicker rocking chair, and an unused fire hearth. It was a home, maybe not so long ago.
She waits till she's sitting back at the table before she heals herself. She's low on chakra and achy all over, and doesn't want to pass out and fall if she overexerts herself.
"I'm Ino," she tells him as she rolls her pant legs up to inspect the wound.
"Kimimaro," he answers. She can feel his eyes on her.
Its shallow, nothing too serious – she heals it easily enough, pumping a little more chakra into both calves to ease the muscle tension and lactic acid. She does the same for the burns on her arm, then turns to face him.
"You're a medic."
He says it more like an accusation than anything; Ino frowns, but nods. "A field medic, yeah."
She notices something, then: all of a sudden, she feels a presence in the room – chakra. She glances around, unsure, but when her eyes rest on him she realizes that oh my god, this guy's a shinobi. A really freaking strong one. The chakra coming off him is thick and heavy and tough, and Ino sees this as a nonverbal don't-fuck-with-me.
And, sitting there sipping his tea, this unarmed, completely relaxed man with the shit ton of chakra has suddenly become very, very dangerous.
They make an odd trio, the three of them: the wayward flowergirl, the prodigal artist, the exile searching for redemption. Deidara confuses the roles more often than not; it was easy to lose yourself when everything around you was a living hell.
Classifying made things easier, though he knows people can't be classified.
We're just players. He's had it figured out for a while, now. Ino's the prodigal, the champion, the hero searching for something lost; Kimimaro's a wanderer, also searching, but unlike Ino he's a martyr in the making. Deidara fancies himself an anti-hero, a rogue, a warrior mentor, a sort of Michael Cassio. He knows it's futile to cast people he actually knows, to try to fit them under one archetype, but it gives him security and helps him sleep at night.
It never should have worked, but it did.
The stranger- Kimimaro - didn't so much let her stay at the hut as much as he told her that it was temporary residence for him as well and that he didn't mind sharing it with her.
Ino took him up on it, mainly because she wasn't sure where she was, where her team was, or where the nearest village was. She spent five days in that hut, and over those five days she divided her time between scouting, searching, and talking to Kimimaro. She kept the conversation deliberately light, avoiding topics such as The Hell That Reigned Outside At Night (which was technically unavoidable, but no one wanted to talk about that), Why You Are Here (because, again, that was private), and Your Past (because, seriously, everyone had some kind of sob story to tell and it could turn into a pissing match really, really fast. At night she slept on one of the moth-eaten blankets that had been in the closet; Kimimaro assured her that watch shifts weren't necessary, that the wards would hold.
She didn't speak of the outside, of the man who'd put her in this position, of Orochimaru or of the future.
Over those five days, she found out some things about the man she was staying with:
He was a little quiet, kinda stoic, but not without a sardonic sense of humor.
Polite as he was, he interrupted a lot in conversation if he thought he was right.
He was good at casino games, like poker, but couldn't play rummy for his life.
He liked the rain.
He didn't like way that it made him cough.
The aforementioned cough was the reason he wasn't affiliated with a team at the moment, he'd revealed. He'd been the leader of a cutthroat pack, and once he couldn't hold his position…
Ino had nodded sympathetically. She knew what that was like.
If the way he kept up the wards was any indication, he was a strong ninja, but Ino couldn't tell his affiliation and she didn't know of his special abilities. She suspected ninjutsu, though, because he went without weapons and didn't look the type for genjutsu.
He was most likely looking for someone, too, because he'd go out at the same times every day and return just as the sun was setting.
On the sixth day he didn't return at all; Ino felt a pang of disappointment. She knew it was foolish, but she'd developed a certain camaraderie with him over the past almost-week.
The seventh day was a surprise and a half.
Just after she'd woken up, Kimimaro came stumbling in through the front door, looking for all the world like hell was at his heels and oh my god, his spine was not where it was supposed to be.
Neither were his ribs, fingers, or kneecaps.
But the bones began sinking back into his skin, so that must've been a kekki genkei, but there was blood, a freaking lot of blood, and Ino snapped into her medic mode.
He looked like he'd been playing in barbed wire, and if the metal bits buried in his back were any indication, that wasn't too far from the truth.
When Kimimaro wakes, his head hurts and his back's tender and his chest is tight. He coughs, and this only hurts his head more, but then she's placing a warm washrag on his forehead and saying, "Easy now."
He's laying on a pile of blankets. Kimimaro frowns and looks at her. She's looking a little worse for wear, tired and anxious. "Did it follow me?"
She shakes her head. He doesn't need to specify what 'it' was. "Your wards kept it away. They're down, now – mine are up, but they're not as strong."
He can see it now, the battle-worn look she has about her. He's not stranger to it. In his half-awake state, he reaches up a hand and touches the scrape on her cheek. "You were fending them off."
He looks down at himself, noticing that he's much better off than he'd though he'd be. "And you healed me."
Again, she nods. She bits her lip, and Kimimaro can feel her question before she asks it. She is a medic, after all. "Your…there's something wrong with your lungs, isn't there?"
There's no use denying it. It's what got him here in the first place. "Yes."
The other question, however, he wasn't expecting. "Do you...are you connected with Orochimaru?"
"No," he snarls. She recoils, and for a moment he feels bad. A moment. He couldn't help the vehemence; Orochimaru belongs in his past. There's nothing that he wants to do with the man, everything is half-buried truths and intricate deceptions.
Orochimaru belongs in his past. But the reality of it was, Orochimaru was also his present.
"No," he reiterates. He doesn't stop to think where she might've gotten this notion. "I have nothing to do with the snake man." She still looks wary, and Kimimaro figures that at this point, telling her his objective won't hurt. "I'm looking for a medic who can heal my lungs. There was rumored to be on in this region, but…" he shuts his eyes. He's no stranger with grisly, gruesome deaths, but there are some things that are best left unseen. "She's been killed."
He's under no illusion that the girl will be able to heal him; she is just a field medic, after all. But he acquiesces when she asks if she could check out his lungs, maybe see what was wrong.
Her hands are cool on his chest.
He can feel her chakra go through him, feel the foreign energy. He has to stop himself not to fight it; it's not that difficult, because it feels nice, relaxing.
He looks up and she's frowning, pulling her hands away. "I…the damage is extensive. Almost like pneumonia. But…" now she's eyeing him. "In my village, the Hokage is a legendary doctor. Orochimaru even went to her…"
Yes, Kimimaro knows all about that. How Orochimaru – Lord Orochimaru, as he'd called the man back then – sought out his former teammate, the legendary Sannin Tsunade. How she'd refused to heal his arms.
Ino's standing now, pacing. Propping himself up on his elbows, he says, "How could we do that?"
"Your wards." Ino has a look in her eye, like she has a plan. "If we travel by day, and use your wards at night…we could get to the Leaf. You can get your lungs healed, and I'll be home." She clasps her hands together in a girlish sort of delight.
He sighs, because, although her plan sounds wonderful, there are too many variables, too many flaws.
It also brings up the question, 'what was she running from?'
He shoves it to the back of his mind. It's none of his business.
Instead, he concentrates on refuting her plan. "Even by day, the demons are out. And how do you know your village wasn't destroyed?" Especially if it was connected to Orochimaru…
She smirks. Actually smirks. "I'm a genjutsu specialist –
"I thought you were a medic-nin."
"That too. But –"
"And the demons are immune to genjutsu."
She rolls her eyes. "I know that. But I can sense where most of the demons are, right? So we can avoid them!" She stops pacing, turns to face him. "Kimimaro," she says, "This might actually work."
The cliff that they're standing on offers the best view of the dessert sunset, of the city, of the impending explosion. He has an arm slung around both of them and is grinning from ear to ear as they watch the city go up in flames and smoke, just as the sun bleeds into the sky.
"Better than any fireworks you've ever seen, yeah?" He squeezes his arms around them, rocking on the balls of his feet. There's nothing like a good explosion to get you excited, to release the endorphines, to make you sit back and go wow.
Kimimaro doesn't respond, but Ino chuckles and leans into his embrace. "Better than fireworks," she agrees warmly.
And Deidara laughs. He steps in front of them, whirling on his heel to face the two of them. "It's all ours," he says, making a sweeping gesture with his arms. "All of it."
"We'll make it ours," Kimimaro corrects. He's the last person to indulge in childish fancy, but Deidara knows that he can see it, that he can feel it.
The veritable hell around them doesn't matter – the words are true, Deidara feels it in his bones.
All the world's a stage…
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything
If you are confused, never fear: the interludes are just that, interludes, and will fall into place eventually.
To be continued...