I love you as one loves certain dark things,
Secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
- Pablo Neruda
Early that evening, Ino's suitcases and boxes are piled high onto an ox-drawn cart that will make its slow, meandering way towards Konoha in the coming week.
She keeps a small backpack of essentials for her own walk back to Konoha, a journey of two or three days from here. Her pack is filled to capacity because Ino has difficulties packing light, but at least it snaps closed and doesn't immediately burst at the seams. (She probably doesn't need six tops and three dresses and two pairs of shoes and a hairdryer for the journey, but maybe she does.)
Ino drags her pack to the front door, ready for her departure the next morning, then stands back and observes the irreproachably tidy apartment.
Well, the apartment is mostly irreproachably tidy. There is the slight problem of Hidan, who is currently splayed disconsolately across the couch. He is decidedly not coping well as Ino's departure looms and has been growing progressively grouchier all day.
"You hungry?" asks Ino. "All the food's gone, so I was going to grab some takeout…"
"No," says Hidan with a significant amount of pout.
His stomach growls, audible even from where Ino stands. She keeps her face straight and shrugs. "Suit yourself, cranky-pants. I'll be back later."
She slams the door behind her just in time to mask the sound of her laughter.
However, as Ino makes her way down the stairs to the flower shop, she grows serious, because there is something that she wants to do on this last night in Kurashiki. She creeps silently into the dark flower shop, plucks two yellow chrysanthemums from the flower cooler, and heads to the old bridge.
What should have been a five minute walk takes Ino almost half an hour, because her progress is interrupted here and there as she is hailed by neighbours and customers who want to chit-chat. Ino takes advantage of these moments to bid the quaint folks a final farewell, because she doesn't intend to come back to Kurashiki any time in the near future – or ever, if she's honest.
Just as the sun disappears behind the horizon, the old bridge comes into view. It is in the process of being rebuilt; Ino can see materials piled in neat stacks here and there in the dusk. She can also see, from the glimmer on its surface, that the water has sunk to its normal level – and that it is studded with tufts of reeds and cattails, but that there isn't a waterlily in sight. It is an absence which, to any other observer, might be quite unremarkable – but to Ino, it means the world.
A small memorial has been erected next to the bridge in honour of the two little girls who drowned. Ino kneels in front of it and looks at the photos and cards that are scattered around, but, after a moment, she finds that her eyes are brimming with tears, so everything is blurry and there isn't much point in looking anymore.
She lays her two chrysanthemums down gently.
"I'm so sorry," whispers Ino. "I don't know if it was actually my fault, or it wasn't, but either way, I'm so sorry."
It is a relief to voice these words of heartfelt apology and to make this gesture, however small, out of respect for the two lives that were taken here, whether by the whim of nature or the caprice of a real dickhead of a god. Ino kneels in silence for a long time. The only thing she can see through her tears is the pale gold of the flowers, almost luminous in the growing dusk.
She somehow doesn't hear the man approach; it is only when he lays a heavy hand on her shoulder that she notices him there. She glances up in surprise – it is the old man who owns the fruit stand down the street.
Ino sniffs and tries to wipe away her tears discreetly.
"A sad thing," says the old man.
He notices her tears and hands her a tissue that smells of incense.
"Thank you," says Ino.
Silence falls between them and the night-time breeze ruffles the petals of the twin chrysanthemums. The photographs and cards move slightly, as though invisible hands touch them, except it's just the wind.
"It's not fair that this happened," says Ino.
"It isn't," says the old man.
The old man sighs heavily. "They kill us for their sport."
He gives her shoulder a fortifying squeeze before shuffling away with slow old man steps. Ino watches him go until he disappears into the night.
Ino takes a moment to wipe away any lingering tears and allow the redness to fade from her eyes before she walks to the Thai takeout place down the street. When it comes time to pay for her order, she discovers that they've given it to her on the house, because it's her last meal in Kurashiki, which is so sweet that she almost wants to cry again.
So wow, she really needs to get a grip right now.
Ino makes her way up the stairs to her apartment enveloped in a cloud of the delicious smells of curry and pad thai.
"I'm home," calls Ino as she enters.
Hidan is in the bedroom, praying, or pretending to, and ignoring her.
Ino lays out various takeout containers onto the kitchen table and opens their lids so that their fragrant contents waft throughout the apartment. Hidan ignores her some more.
Then she snaps open a pair of chopsticks, loudly, and Hidan materializes next to the table almost instantly.
"Oh, hello," says Ino. "Good prayer?"
"Godly," says Hidan, seating himself swiftly next to her and grabbing at the nearest container with his usual lack of manners.
Ino rests the tips of her chopsticks on the back of his hand with just enough pressure to suggest impalement if he moves it any further.
"Excuse me?" says Ino. "I thought you didn't want anything."
"I didn't," says Hidan. "Now I do. Duh."
"Well I'm glad to hear that," says Ino with a sweet smile. "I brought you something special. None of this run-of-the-mill stuff."
"Oh?" says Hidan, looking hopeful in spite of his grumpiness.
"Yeah," says Ino, digging up a package from between the takeout containers that are heaped onto the table. "Here."
It takes him a long time to open the package – Ino made very sure that it would, with obnoxious amounts of tape – but eventually, and with much swearing, he manages.
He peers at the little satchel curiously, and then he reads the label properly, and he cracks up with sudden, unexpected laughter.
"Fuck you," he says, tossing the satchel of deluxe gerbil pellets onto the table. "Funny, but fuck you."
Ino grins at him. "Have your curry and quit pouting at me."
Hidan pulls the curry towards him, then gives Ino a sly look and sprinkles some gerbil pellets on top, just to gross her out.
"Why would you do that?" says Ino, exasperated. "You just ruined a perfect curry…"
"Hey, I like it," says Hidan, vacuuming the mixture into his mouth. "Adds some… texture… or some shit."
"I don't believe you," says Ino, watching him in disgust. "…What's it taste like?"
Hidan chews pensively. "Cardboard."
"Yum," says Ino, turning her attention back to her pad thai.
They eat their food in more-or-less silence, except for Hidan's gross slurping, which he is sharply reprimanded for on several occasions.
He finishes his food, leans back on his chair so that only two legs are on the floor, and stares at the ceiling in a thoughtful kind of way as Ino finishes her meal.
Then he scratches casually at his neck. And then at his collarbone.
And then he pushes his amulet out of the way and rubs his sternum vigorously.
He blinks once or twice. Ino watches as he, very nonchalantly, reaches over and grabs the packet of gerbil food and, extremely casually, reads the ingredient list.
He sighs deeply. "Figures."
"What?" asks Ino.
Then she looks at his reddening chest, and the package in his hand, and the empty curry bowl in front of him, with a few pellets still stuck around the rim.
Ino stares at him. She has no words.
Antihistamine cream is applied, lectures on imbecility are given, and the midnight hour rings. Ino climbs into this particular bed for the last time and she's almost too excited to sleep, because tomorrow she heads back to normalcy, her family, her friends, her village and its uncommonly large population of loveable village idiots.
"What are you looking so damn happy about?" asks Kurashiki's village idiot morosely when Ino snuggles into her pillow with a small smile.
"I'm happy," says Ino, "because I'm going home."
Hidan stares darkly at the ceiling.
"Are you going to get grumpy again?" asks Ino, propping herself onto her elbows to look at him. "You've known I was leaving since the beginning. Don't be a Jizzface about this."
Hidan snorts, because that is the first time that Ino has used his particularly unkind name for farmer-boy, and apparently, that is amusing.
"You weren't Jizzface's personal fucking angel," says Hidan.
"I think he'd say I was."
"Whatever," says Hidan. "You're mine. Jashin gave you to me. And now you're trying to bail."
"I put you back together. That was my purpose, if you remember," says Ino. "I'm done now. You don't need me anymore."
"Yes I do."
Ino rolls her eyes. "Do you? Really?"
"How do you still need me?" asks Ino, squirming closer to him. "This should be good."
"Way too many ways to list," says Hidan with finality, as if this non-answer should close the discussion immediately and in his favour.
"Mm, you'll need to do better than that," says Ino, shaking her head. "How about you start with one."
Hidan stares at the ceiling, pouting and thinking simultaneously, apparently. Ino indulges in studying his profile for a moment, that perfect nose, those cheekbones, those eyelashes, that fair skin almost as flawless as hers, that hair that is so well-arranged right now that she just wants to stick both hands in it and mess it up and have a fight with him about it…
"Well?" prompts Ino before she gets all hot and bothered.
"Fine: I don't know where to buy that itchy cream stuff," says Hidan, gesturing to the tube on the side table. "I'll die without you."
"You can't die, Hidan," says Ino.
"That's not the point."
Ino laughs, because that is totally the point, and he's being a huge doofus. "I can tell you where to buy the cream. It's called a pharmacy."
"Never heard of one."
"Lying's a sin, Hidan."
"Okay, so problem two," says Hidan quickly. "I don't have any money to buy things from pharmacies, and you cry if I steal shit, even from heathens, you damn goodie-goodie…"
"You're a mercenary nin," says Ino. "You must get paychecks for your work, no–?"
"Problem three," interrupts Hidan. "I definitely lost that kidnapping demon vessels gig, seeing as I disappeared halfway through and kinda forgot to tell them what happened, and that was like, ages ago…"
"So find another job," says Ino with a small shrug.
Hidan holds up a finger. "Well. Problem… uh… what are we at now, twenty-six?–"
"Four," says Ino.
Hidan narrows his eyes at her and looks as though he doubts her counting abilities. He nevertheless continues. "Problem four. All the jobs I lined up before this, I kind of… killed the guys who were supposed to be the boss."
"I see," says Ino. "And why did you do that?"
"I have a problem with authority," says Hidan.
Ino raises one of her perfect eyebrows. "So why didn't you kill the boss of the demon vessel gang?"
"I couldn't. I tried and I couldn't. Then he tried to kill me, the fuckface, and he couldn't. And I couldn't kill the dude who was my partner, either. So we figured it'd be a good fit."
Ino shakes her head. "So what you're saying is… you lost the one job that would have worked out for you. In the whole world."
"Yes," says Hidan. "See? You're starting to get it. This is why you have to stay with me. And you can pay for shit."
"I'm not your sugar mama," says Ino.
"Don't be," says Hidan, taking her hand and looking at her with those violet eyes. "Be my angel-wife."
Ino smiles in spite of herself, because he's so cute and innocent sometimes and it's doing funny things to her, goddamn…
"Your angel-wife," repeats Ino, when the stupid urge to squeal and pinch his cheeks and call him adorable finally passes.
"Yes. And we can live sexily ever after."
"You know, I kinda like the sound of this angel-wife thing, because it's got a pretty ring to it," says Ino with a smile she can't repress, "but I don't think that's a thing."
"It is now," says Hidan, making fleeting eye contact with her and holding her hand to his chest. "If you like the sound of it…"
His heart beats a little faster under her palm and they stare at each other, and Ino isn't sure whether they're still joking at this point, or whether they're being serious. But they can't be being serious, because there's no such thing as an angel-wife, and if there was, Ino wouldn't be his, because she's not that crazy or stupid or in love (never that last one, right?), and anyway, he's totally messing around, like he always is, isn't he…?
Ino looks at Hidan to decipher, one way or another, his actual feelings on the matter, but, perhaps precisely for that reason, he won't meet her eyes. He stares at the ceiling, his look carefully guarded but his actions less so; he is pressing her hand to his chest and she can feel the metallic heat of his amulet caught between his fast-beating heart and her hand. He presses so hard that Ino can feel the lines of the pendant marking themselves into her palm, there amidst her life line and her heart line and her fate line, connecting those paths together with their sacred geometry…
The thought seems scary to Ino, who wants to pull her hand away. And this gesture of Hidan's tells her that he is actually not joking, which is altogether quite a disturbing prospect, all things considered.
This is not a good conversation to be having tonight, this last night of Ino's in Kurashiki; it is not a conversation that will be conducive to them going their separate ways in the morning, which they must do, for many very good reasons…
God damn, this was just a summer thing.
Ino pulls her hand out from under Hidan's gently, but also, firmly, because he is so reluctant to let it go. She glances discreetly at her palm and sees the red lines of the pendant there, fading quickly, but there, and she pulls her hand under the sheet because she doesn't want Hidan to see that she has been marked by the divine in this understated but undisputable way.
Ino retreats to safer conversational territory as casually as she can because at this precise moment there are uncertainties weaving their way into her certainties, which is something she neither enjoys nor wants right now.
"Anyway," says Ino. "I really am done. Jashin released me the minute I put that amulet back on you. So now you can go on terrorizing mankind, and I can carry on with my life."
"Which is also terrorizing mankind," says Hidan.
"Not quite terrorizing," says Ino. "That's kind of a strong word."
"Zombifying them, whatever," says Hidan with a dismissive gesture. "Close enough."
Ino shakes her head. "Anyway. We're talking about you, not me. Where will you go? What will you do?"
"I haven't really thought that far ahead," says Hidan grouchily. "I hate planning shit."
"Yeah, I'm aware of that," says Ino.
Hidan shrugs. "Maybe I wait for Jashin to give me a sign."
"A sign. Like this," says Hidan, closing his eyes and looking pious. "Almighty Jashin. If my angel's supposed to stay with me, make her a total hottie."
He opens his eyes and looks at Ino. "There. A total hottie. See? It's a sign. Stay with me."
"I'm not sure that really counts as a sign," says Ino.
"You're too cynical, angel," says Hidan, shaking his head gravely. "You gotta open your heart."
"You're so full of it," says Ino, laughing.
He reaches a hand into her bra and closes his eyes.
"What are you doing?" asks Ino.
"Opening your heart to the world," says Hidan as he gropes at her breast and pulls away her bra down.
"Jashin," says Hidan, closing his eyes. "If my angel's supposed to stay with me, give me a half-chub right now."
Then his eyes fly open and he wiggles his eyebrows at Ino.
"Really, Hidan," says Ino.
"Gimme your hand," says Hidan.
"Yes," says Hidan, snatching Ino's hand before she can pull it away and dragging it to his crotch.
"See? Signs. Everywhere."