Genma checked for his next appointment with the doctor; found it penned in for a late afternoon session in two days' time. Too fast. Two days? He should've remembered that. Probably had it scrawled on one of the many little appointment cards scattered about his apartment. The secretary kept handing him new ones, stroking her fingers over his in a soft flutter every time he checked out. He glanced at the clock, frowned as he saw time racing towards the 8 o'clock mark.
The secretary would be in soon and Genma still had breadcrumbs to sweep up in the subbasements. Amazing, how destroying all the paper trails was more of a mission than the original cover-up. Disgusted, Genma jerked his head and dropped the book back in the drawer with a thunk that coughed up musty air and an old yellowed sticky note — more yellow than sticky.
It sailed across the desk. He braced one hand against the desk and held the little yellow note in the other, the soft tick-tick-tick of the antique clock drowned out by the thud-thud-thud in his chest. Jolting hard, Genma smacked the notelet down, thrust his hands in the drawer and clawed through empty manila files and crisp blank sheets, his lips tight around the senbon, breath firing in a syncopated pant through his nose — in-out, in-out.
He slammed the drawer and shoved away from the desk, passing his hands over his clothed brow to lace his fingers behind his head, narrow eyes pressed shut. Confusion swarmed his brain, an aggravated hive. A slow indrawn breath and his eyes opened.
He came forward again, gripped the sides of the desk, one hand at a time, leather gloves squeaking. He stared down at the note, stared so damned hard his vision doubled on the words diagnostic report. There was no way Shikamaru was one of Mushi's patients.
The Council — under the Sandaime's orders — had prohibited the psychiatrist from treating any Nara patients other than Shikaku. Wasn't that the very reason Genma had been planted as a spy two years ago? To make sure. To make certain. That included Mushi's clients. Genma had reels of names and hundreds of recordings; hundreds and hundreds of recordings…recordings that ran like a constant radio-feed in his apartment, droning on deep into the long and lonely hours where insomnia became a kind of wired insanity.
Two years. Two years sitting with his heels kicked up on the rubble of his crumbling life, a bottle in one hand and a little pink pill in the other, tapping people's lives like some code operator in a number station — because that's all Mushi's patients were to Genma, numbers and codes and pieces of paper. Only way he could do it, sitting there by the flicking lights of bulbs too burned out to function, reading names, writing numbers, listening to lines and lines of dialogue until he became numb to anything but the keywords…and not once had he detected them.
No mention of Shikamaru or anything that went down in Kusagakure two years ago. Which made total sense…because Shikamaru had never received or required treatment after that incident. He hadn't needed it because…. Don't ask him about it You go to the people I told you to.
He can't be allowed to remember. But you will. You have to. Now swear it. Genma blinked back from the memory of those words, trying to forget the face of the man who'd spoken them and focus instead on the warning he'd failed to take to heart.
His heart…that'd been the problem at the time, hadn't it? And two years on his head wasn't doing any better at keeping up with the lies, the loose ends…the twisted logistics that kept it all together. Well, between the drinking and the drugs, it wasn't hard to imagine that he'd fucked up at some point. Some vital point. Or maybe he'd become so blind to the truth that he'd failed to detect it altogether.
Cold numb detachment was what he needed. He was excellent at that. That was his forte. At least it was when he wasn't trying to get his next fix…just how many little pink pills did he have left, anyway? His expression hardened, eyes sharpening on the yellow note. Discovering where Dr Mushi had been spending his mornings was secondary now to finding out whatever this insect did or didn't know about Nara Shikamaru.
And even more pressing than that, was finding out what Shikamaru did or didn't know about his own past. Genma raised his head and looked across at the panelled cabinets where Mushi kept his patients' records under lock and Buddha-Belly Key. Where the crackling audio recordings had failed, the hardcopy reports might offer some insight. Or at least offer some direction with regards to how fast Genma needed to run to get ahead of the potential landslide.
Sure as clockwork, he heard the rap-rap-rap of heels outside, followed by a melody of chirpy female tones twittering through the open window as Mushi's secretary went about the lengthy purse-rummaging ritual of letting herself into the building. Rearranging the drawer back into its former order, he locked it up and returned the keys to the Laughing Buddha's belly.
A quick circle of the room, a last glance in the direction of the cabinets — and he was out the window and across the street before the secretary was through the door. No clearer the second time around.
He'd come a complete circle. Sighing, he gave up on instructions and followed his instincts. A quick sniff and he recaptured Ino's scent, faint and floral beneath the pervading stink of chemicals, plants, medicines and something toxic enough to make his head spin and his stomach roll.
He winced at the olfactory overload; felt it burn like hell had crawled up his nostrils, searching for a nosebleed. A kick in the balls might've been kinder.
Re-orienting himself, Kiba loped along the dove grey corridors of the botanical research facility, eyes on the pale vinyl flooring that streaked out ahead of him in a long worn strip. Kiba grunted and shouldered through the swinging doors, wincing at the pain.
A small reception area greeted him. But nobody was home. The main desk stood vacant, the adjacent space occupied by long shelves and racks of botanical magazines. No wonder the receptionist had bailed.
Kiba looked right and then left along the two branching corridors, nostrils flaring, millions of scent receptors firing off, sending out signals that he interpreted in a heartbeat. He spun right, moving off along the hallway towards the laboratory door at the far end, following perfume swirls of hyacinth and lilies, humming a tune….
Ino didn't seem deterred by the mechanics. In fact, she looked the professional part, kitted out in a stained lab-coat, complete with gloves and goggles. She'd even pulled her hair out of her face and secured it like some weird flower arrangement at the top of her head, wisps of flaxen hair shimmering as she moved, reminding Kiba of the pale silky thread grass he used to get lost in as a kid. Kiba's jaw tightened on a snarl. He brushed off the memory like dirt, focused on Ino's gloved hands whisking across the work surface, handling apparatus with an ease and efficiency that both surprised and intimidated Kiba out of his initial plan to burst in and tease her.
Shocked stupid, Kiba hung back, thumbs hooked into the waist of his slacks, his jaw hanging open a little. He didn't know the song. Something girly and silly, but Ino was swinging her hips and swaying her body with gusto, promenading up and down the work aisle with the uncoordinated but somehow sensual uninhibitedness of a woman dancing when she thought no one was watching — using a scalpel as a microphone.
It was a fleeting thought, gone before it could germinate. Nothing mocking or cruel took root in Kiba's brain To think, none of her moves were calculated to impress, seduce or draw attention, yet Kiba was more riveted than he'd been at Shikamaru's birthday party — and at that point Ino was using him as the dance floor. But there was something — some feelin' - about the unguardedness of this moment that captivated him in a way her drunken flirting hadn't.
Absorbed, Kiba leaned into the door, brows flying upward in amusement when Ino lifted a tray above her head and did a dainty little pirouette towards the opposite bench, still singing, only softer now, her voice as sweet as a dream. Setting down the tray and reaching for a stack of empty vials, she caught Kiba's lounging figure out the corner of her eye and let out a startled yelp, one hand grasping the counter and the other pressed against her thundering heart.
Recovering fast, Ino straightened up and gathered her indignation into a vaporising glare that might've been scary were it not for the goggles. Kiba gagged on the thought and made a face, tapping his temple to indicate the safety glasses. And that's sayin' a lot. A mortified pause and Ino exploded. She thrust a gloved finger at him. Now, faced with a stupid question like that, which left Ino wide open for a heavy-fire commentary on her little dance performance, Kiba was armed to the teeth and ready to let loose.
Only he didn't. The comments stuck like cannonballs in the back of his throat, locked and loaded but unable to launch. It was the perfect opportunity. Man, it had been handed to him on a rare silver platter like a prime cut of kobe beef steak. He could decimate her with this shit. Hell, he might never get a chance like this again. But even rattled and dethroned, she thrust her chin up to a queenly angle as if daring him to bring it on. All tough cookie in the face of her imminent humiliation.
And just like that, he let it slide, one part of his psyche howling at him in outrage while the other just rolled over and played dead, not wanting to examine why he'd given up on this golden, golden chance to forever reign supreme over the Yamanaka princess.
Ino gave a little jolt at the unexpected diversion, like he'd reached across and shoved her. She teetered, a bird on a very thin tripwire. When Kiba offered nothing else, she puffed up on the spot, all hot air and rising steam with absolutely no outlet. The playful jab slid like a needle into a balloon.
Colour popped hot and pink across Ino's cheeks, a stream of pent-up air hissing through her nose. She scowled, snapping, "Well show it to me then. Smiling, Kiba reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a large sandwich bag, displaying said root; a long ruddy worm-like thing with odd spindly shoots.
It brought to mind a bloated centipede. That thing smelled like ass. Ino caught it one-handed and mid-turn, balancing the tray of vials on her hip. She stuck her tongue out at Kiba's mocking whistle and examined the specimen, tossing her hair out of her face with a huff. The effects of said grin weren't quite what he was expecting. Rather than yell or roll her eyes, an odd tightness gripped Ino's expression and her body stiffened; she held herself like someone teetering at the edge of a natural reaction and a controlled response.
His grin pulled into a teeth-grinding sneer. He'd had enough of this controlled bullshit from Neji earlier. If there was anyone he could count on — besides Naruto — for a good verbal rough and tumble, it was Ino. But before Kiba could knock her off kilter and back into the insults, her words shot out cool and clipped. The effectiveness of that statement didn't even penetrate, like tapping a bloodhound with a fly swatter. Kiba didn't budge. Ino didn't seem to breathe. She just stared quietly at him, her eyes cool.
No hint of the blue fire he'd seen seconds before. Uncomfortable, but damned if he'd show it, Kiba raised his brows and chuckled humourlessly, a quiet rumble in his throat. No hiss and spit today? Now that hit. That hit hard. That hit dead-on-fucking-centre. Anger burned beneath the playful sparkle in Kiba's eyes, his drawl coming out hard and low, despite the intended lightness of his words.
Not when you're sober anyway. Heat flooded Ino's face, redder and brighter than the tattoo slashes on the Inuzuka's lean cheeks. But it knocked the ice from her eyes, blue flames rising up. He didn't get to enjoy the reaction. Bristling, Ino turned and set down the tray with enough force to rattle the vials.
What a backfire. Kiba knew enough about women's silences to know that he should've stopped when he was all playful bark and no bite. He'd bit too deep with those words. Maybe drawn a bit of blood in the process. He stroked his tongue across his teeth, caught the bitter aftertaste of his words and smacked his lips, passing a hand across his mouth.
No way. Choosing to bound over the tension rather than wrestle with it, Kiba shoved off the door and strolled into the laboratory with all the swaggering confidence of a wolf on his own turf. Couldn't have been further from the truth. Controlled environments like laboratories and classrooms were the worst kind of cages. That might've explained a lot about his truant behaviour at the Academy — what was it Iruka-sensei had said?
Something about Kiba being a kinaesthetic learner? Better with the hands-on stuff? His mother had taken the advice to heart and beat the shit out of him from then on out. Yeah, that was some hands-on learning, Inuzuka style. He stopped skipping classes.
Well…stopped getting caught anyway. Not fancying an elbow to the face, Kiba gave her a wide berth and sniffed at a shelf lined with plant specimens, jerking his head back at the poisonous scent of nightshade.
Crouching down, Kiba shot her a quick sideways look from beneath his brows, pretending to examine the lower shelves. You do that in here? Damn, she was really gonna make him work for it. Grunting, the dog-nin slapped his thighs and straightened up, hands sliding into his pockets. He examined the laboratory's layout and meandered his way along the rows of lab benches, taking the long winding route, letting the tension crank a few notches until he ended up on the opposite side of Ino's workspace.
Smirking, Kiba pulled up a stool, let the legs drag in an obnoxious screech, all nails and chalkboard. Ah, instantaneous and gratifying. Just that small reaction was encouragement enough. The dog-nin plonked himself down on the stool, took up a vial and popped the stopper with his thumb, catching it in his palm before it could go bouncing off down the bench.
Raising his palms in surrender, Kiba set the vial down with exaggerated care before taking up another one just to repeat the process: Pop , catch. Pop, catch. Pop , catch.
Satisfied that he wasn't going to smash anything, Ino left him to it and went about examining the root sample under a long-necked magnifying glass that looked more like one of those goose-necked lamps than a lens. Kiba absorbed himself in the vial-popping task for the mindless distraction it provided. Not like he had anything more entertaining to do.
It was all about passing the time until he could bail Akamaru out of quarantine and burn a hole in Neji's wallet. Oh, and maybe get his shoulder looked at. He cocked his head at Ino, bouncing a rubber stopper in his palm. Too bad that asking her for help meant admitting that he was wrong and she was right about the stupid shoulder-harness thing.
Was a fixed shoulder worth an earful of 'I told you so'? Finished with the vials, Kiba propped his elbows on the workbench and dangled a glass tube from his fingers, swinging it idly. She reached across for a set of pins and secured the root to a slide. Curious but not wanting to appear too interested, Kiba rocked the stool onto its back legs and peered down the glass tube at Ino, twirling the distorted image.
He waited a beat before asking, "So why didn't you go into nerdy stuff instead? She took a swab of the dark sticky fluid that leaked from the bleeding root and set the sample in a small petri dish. Straightening up, Ino scowled and swatted at him. She missed, but was satisfied to watch him wobble for balance.
It failed to throw him off; he continued to gaze at her through the tube and said, "Admit it. You enjoy this science geek stuff.
Ino arched a delicate brow, fixing him with a look. That seemed to please her. Smiling, Ino propped a hip against the bench and snapped her gloves off, looking thoughtful. I mean, I'm good at this stuff, right? To Kiba's ears, that sounded completely rhetorical, but the expectant sideways look that Ino shot him suggested otherwise.
He did a double-take of her expression and hesitated. Was she being subtle? He didn't do subtle. Not well, anyway. Also, when the hell did Ino give a damn about his opinions anyway? Was she actually asking for his opinion? Lifting a brow, he lowered the tube a scant inch, met her gaze over the top of it.
Ino rolled her eyes, but her lips twitched in a begrudging smile. So long as the anti-venom and poisons work. I was worried. The chimaeras are scary but these plants are all…" she wiggled her fingers mystically over the pinned root, which Kiba assumed was meant to illustrate the freak factor.
You sound like Shino with his insects. Neji's gonna have a blast keepin' him from getting all depressed over the whole carnivorous-plant thing. Shino's insects won't even classify as snacks for these things. Instead of sympathy, Ino slid a large beaker towards him. Bright orange fluid, thick as churned honey, rolled around the glass in a sluggish wave.
And then the scent struck Kiba's nose, burning like wasabi along his sinuses. Gagging, he sneezed violently into the crook of his arm and squinted at Ino through watery eyes. Kiba grinned as if to say 'yeah, nice one'.
He stopped smiling pretty fast when Ino returned his look with a frank stare. He stared back, shook his head. Kiba held up a hand to cut her off. And I still won't care. I ain't using this. Grumbling, the dog-nin tipped the stool onto its back legs and stretched out his arms, maintaining a calculated distance between his nose and the contents of the beaker.
Ino smirked, watching him work like a puppet on strings, all stiff-limbed and wooden expression. Yeah, he was totally holding his breath. Pretty sure he was crying. This stuff was giving off vapours like a fucking onion.
No way was it going on his skin. He didn't notice Ino watching him until she stopped packing things away, turned towards him and finally deigned to ask, "Is it really that bad?
Kiba narrowed his streaming eyes at her, about as much as he could manage without scrunching his nose and triggering a sneeze that'd dent the back of his head. He hadn't said it to impress or interest her, but for some reason Ino abandoned all the botanical paraphernalia and hopped up onto a stool opposite him. He heard her feet tapping the bench on the other side, legs swinging like a kid. She propped her chin in her palm and eyed him dubiously for a moment, then began to smile.
Kiba's eyebrow twitched. A phony compliment? Dead giveaway even if her smile was too sweet to be anything but suspicious. He decided to play along, just for the sake of catching her out. Ino waved a hand as if summoning ideas out of the ether. Kiba stared blankly. Then realised she was serious. Laughter erupted from the back of his throat, followed by an explosive sneeze. When his vision cleared and his nose stopped stinging, he discovered Ino glaring at him.
And then, quick as it took him to blink, her petulant expression transitioned from pissed off princess into indifferent ice queen. It was the same controlled and superior manner she'd taken with him about twenty minutes back.
He couldn't remember what'd triggered it then, only remembered the feeling it'd left him with. He frowned uncertainly at her. It's not as if I'd want someone like you working for me anyway.
It wasn't even the words that did it. It was the way she looked at him when she said it; like he was shit on her shoe. And suddenly Kiba was a five-year-old kid lost in a maze of silky thread grass…and the anger pounced, a crouching wolf inside him.
Kiba leaned across the workbench, teeth lengthening subconsciously, animal-irises glowing gold. The force of her smack turned his head aside, burned like a blow from the flat end of a red hot skillet.
Ears ringing and cheek aflame, Kiba's fingers tightened on the countertop, elongated claws carving grooves into the pale grey Formica. Ino's eyes were wide and shining. The ice had thawed, silver tears glistening along her lash-lines. Cheeks flushed and throat mottled, she heaved a shaking breath but didn't back down, her body still half-turned from the momentum of her swing.
She'd thrown more than her weight behind that blow. Kiba felt it in the sting and tingle across his face. Some fire, some fight…. Hunger sprung up, swallowing the anger.
Kiba took the beast by the throat and leaned back by degrees, eyes still on her mouth. He reached up, rubbed sharp-nailed fingers over his burning cheek, voice rough as an animal's growl, almost unrecognisable in his semi-feral state.
Ino swallowed hard and forced a bitter smile, voice shivering out. Kiba smirked at her cattish hiss and worked his jaw from side to side, fingers still gliding over his cheek. The animal glow dimmed to a simmer in his eyes; claws retracting, fangs receding. Fuck who you thought you were Look inside yourself. Parasite Go fuck yourself. Don't waste your time on me, I don't waste mine on you Holding onto your misery.
The truth was never so clear Throw away your misery. Gutless Nothing Wretched Slumber Channel surf the back of your eyelids Blink away the tears Force yourself to forget Commit the sin that you believe Tie your self up in knots Once again. You walk away. Dip a sponge into the bucket and wring it out until it is barely damp. Sponge down the drywall, starting at the top and working down. Rinse the sponge frequently and replace the water when it gets opaque.
Pay special attention to corners, and the angles between the walls and the ceiling and floor. Barkley, Shaq draw backlash for Breonna Taylor comments. Bill Murray, Doobie Brothers in unlikely legal feud.
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