(Art by the wildly talented tricneu at tumblr)
Be not inhospitable to strangers,
Lest they be angels in disguise.
- W.B. Yeats
It's not that Ino isn't a helpful person. She is. She just prefers to help people on her own terms, you know, terms that don't involve wading knee-deep in swamp-muck, harvesting waterlilies.
But such is life; you don't always get to help people by staying dry and dressing stylishly. Sometimes you have to wear hideous yellow waders. Sometimes you have to help your random cousin set up her random flower shop in a random village in the middle of nowhere, and she has a sad inventory of boring flowers, so…
So, waterlilies. The lotus. The symbol of perfect beauty. Not unlike Ino herself, except Ino doesn't grow in stagnant water that smells like poo. And leeches. And leech poo.
So anyway, Ino is in a foul mood. And then, to further her annoyance, someone talks to her.
"Hello?" says an oddly muffled man's voice.
Ino straightens up and scans her surrounds, because no-one in this literal backwater should have the skills to sneak up on a kunoichi of her caliber. Except, someone did. But she can't see the someone.
"Down here. Are you blind?"
Ino blinks and looks down and sees absolutely nothing at her feet but reeds and a heap of muddy rocks lying partially submerged in water.
"Oh, you are blind. You have, like, no pupils. My bad."
So one of the rocks is talking to her. And insulting her beautiful, fathomless, otherworldly eyes. Ino crouches down. Is it a river spirit, or someone's lost summon, or a joke?
"I don't know what you are," says Ino, "but I already hate you."
"Here," says the voice, and Ino is finally close enough that she can isolate its provenance to one rock in particular, a medium one, mud-crusted, and smelling particularly of leech poo.
Then the rock blinks at her, and she sees that it has eyes – actual eyes – that shine like glorious amethysts in the afternoon sun, amidst a thick crust of swamp-shit.
"What are you?" asks Ino, tilting her head curiously to one side. "Besides ugly, I mean."
The stone scoffs at her. "Wow. Blindness confirmed."
Ino contemplates the stone and pokes it with a fingertip. "You know, I've always wanted a pet rock."
"I'm not a rock," says the rock with some degree of agitation.
"I think I'll take you home and put you on my shelf," says Ino.
"I'm a man."
Ino looks upon the rock with pity. "Okay. I'll humor you and your wild delusions. Where's the rest of you?"
"You know, I'm real fuckin' glad you asked," says the rock. "I have no idea. You're going to help me find my body."
"Am I, now?"
"Yes, you are" says the rock with a strength of confidence that Ino had not previously thought rocks capable of. "You were obviously sent to me for that purpose."
"Sent to you."
"Yes. By Jashin."
"I don't know her."
"He's a he, and he's god."
"… Right," says Ino, standing up and wiping her hands. "I think we're done here. Missionary rocks. I've obviously inhaled too much swamp gas."
"Don't try to deny it. You were sent here by his divine hand!"
"Goodbye," says Ino.
She slips her basket of dripping waterlilies on her arm and her sunhat on her head and squelches away.
And the rock shouts at her to wait, first authoritatively, and then with progressively more panic – "Wait. Wait. Wait!… Stop!"
Ino looks over her shoulder.
"Don't go. Please," whines the rock.
Ino stops. "So you do have some manners."
"That's right. I do. Please, thank you, you're welcome. Come back here. You're a nice bitch. I mean, nice… girl. You've got to help me. I've been here forever. No-one ever comes here, and it's so boring, and it smells like ass."
"I really don't see what's in it for me," says Ino, her gaze drifting homewards.
"I'll be your pet rock! I'll be a good pet."
Ino sniffs and looks at the rock. "You already have a bad attitude. Are you house-trained?"
The rock glares at her, a surprise of violet violence amidst the mud.
"What do you even eat? Do I need to buy gerbil pellets or something?" says Ino, lifting the rock by nasty root-things sticking out of it.
"Ouch, you fuckhead. That's my hair."
"Oops," says Ino. Then she gets a whiff of the rock. "Ugh. You really do smell like ass. I'm going to dunk you in the water now."
So Ino splashes the thing about in the water and rinses off most of the caked-on dirt, and she finds that it is really not a rock at all, but an actual head, with white-blond hair and a foul mouth currently opening and closing in water-muffled outrage as she gleefully waterboards it.
"Wow," says Ino, contemplating this strange phenomenon. "You're actually a decapitated head. How are you not dead?"
"I'm immortal," says the head. "Duh."
"Cool," says Ino, holding the head at eye-level and getting a good look at it. "Hello, head. I'm Ino."
"Dumb name," says the head, giving Ino a once-over. "Suits you. I'm Hidan."
Ino stares at the head pensively in the wake of this fresh insult. "Well, Hidan, I think I'm going to drop-kick you back into the marsh."
"No no no," says the head quickly. "Please don't, nice girl, nice Ino. I'll be good. Take me home. Feed me pellets, whatever. Just get me the fuck out of here."
"Only because you're the first interesting thing that's happened since I got here," says Ino. She narrows her eyes at him. "Don't make me regret it."
"Oh, you won't regret it," says the head. "Not one bit. You're doing Jashin's work, you know, helping me. Maybe I'll even sacrifice you to him, afterwards."
"…Right," says Ino.
She puts the head in her basket, among the sodden waterlilies, and splashes her way home.
It is in a small, quaint hamlet nestled in a valley between two mountains that Ino's cousin Kiku has settled and decided to set up shop. And Ino was volunteered – voluntold – to help her out, because of family obligations or some crap like that. It's not altogether as bad as it could be; she gets a whole summer off of heavy ninja duties in Konoha, and she has found herself a summer fling, a dreamy farmer with bulging forearms, to keep her occupied during the long summer nights…
This random talking head that she found, though – it just made things a whole hell of a lot more interesting.
Upon arrival at her small apartment above cousin Kiku's fledgling flower shop, Ino gives the Hidan thing another rinse in the bathtub, because he still stinks, and she washes his mouth with soap for good measure, because it is foul on several levels, and he tries to bite her, and she smacks him and tells him to behave himself or she'll toss him back into the marsh.
This threat calms him down significantly and he chooses to sulk instead.
Ino perches the head on a towel on top of the microwave and makes herself a stir-fry for supper under his watchful glower.
"Snap pea?" offers Ino, holding one up.
"I was told there would be pellets," says the head grumpily.
Ino rolls her eyes and tosses the snap pea into her wok.
"There's no point in eating, anyway," says the head. "Whatever I eat is just gonna fall out the bottom."
"Aren't you going to die of starvation?"
"Do I look like I'm dying of starvation?"
"I guess not."
"Right. So stop asking me dumb questions like a dumb bitch."
Ino tilts her head, chews on a carrot slice, and considers him. "I wonder if you'll fit down the toilet, if I flush hard enough."
"Probably not," says the Hidan thing quickly. "But let's not try. Sorry for calling you a dumb bitch, you dumb… fuck, I hate having to behave myself."
Ino sets her food on the kitchen table and places the head across from her, nestled into its towel.
"There," she says, seating herself across from him. "Now it just feels like I'm eating dinner with a really short guy."
"I'm not short," says Hidan. "I'm almost six feet tall."
"Inches, I think you mean," says Ino sweetly.
"Feet," says Hidan. "You little b– …god damn. I'm going to stop talking to you now."
He resumes his sulk and Ino eats her dinner under his spiteful violet stare, which is amusing and unsettling all at once. This Hidan thing is very emotive and obnoxious and loud, and there's only, what, ten percent of him here? Ino pities the poor saps that have had to endure the full brunt of his person.
"So," says Ino when she has finished eating and Hidan looks like he's ready to stop pouting. "Tell me. What happened to the rest of you?"
"I had a fight. I got… dismembered. And decapitated. I thought that would've been goddamn obvious."
"Did you fight somewhere around here?" asks Ino. "I didn't see signs of a skirmish…"
"Nah," says Hidan. "In Cloud somewhere. Months ago. Guy had some fast fuckin' swords."
"Cloud," repeats Ino, her eyebrows rising. "You know that's, like, ten thousand miles from here."
"I know," says Hidan. "He threw me down a waterfall, piece by piece… I floated down a bunch of rivers and eventually rolled into that shithole swamp thing where you found me. Where's here?"
"Village of Kurashiki," says Ino. "Country of Fire. Population, 345. Well, 346 if we count me – and 346.1, if we count you."
"Yeah. And none of those 345 people ever pick waterlilies. You're lucky I found you."
Hidan scoffs. "Luck? It's fate. Divine providence. Obviously."
Ino looks cynical in the extreme, because she doesn't believe in that kind of stuff.
"Jashin sent you to find me," continues the head with self-righteous piousness. "My god's hand guides these things. Now you're gonna help me find the rest of me. Or he'll smite the fuck out of you."
Ino laughs, because she's being threatened by a talking head on a towel and his imaginary god.
The head now looks profoundly offended.
"I know he sent you. Don't deny it. You know how I know?"
"How?" asks Ino, humoring him for the sake of conversation.
"Because Jashin is all about killing. And what were you doing?"
"Exactly. Killing flowers."
"That… really seems like a stretch," says Ino.
The comment nevertheless gives her pause, because in all of her years of experience with flowers, she has never thought about it in those blunt terms.
"Lives are lives," says Hidan.
"You're right, of course," says Ino expressionlessly. "I'm a serial killer. How didn't I see it before."
"Listen," says Hidan with a look of saintly patience. "We all start somewhere. Me, I killed some annoying neighbours. You, flowers. That's fine. You'll need to up the ante on your sacrifices eventually, though. You gotta move on to bigger things to make Jashin happy – like people. Dead people make him happy."
Ino reaches over and pets Hidan on the top of the head. "Listen, little guy. I'm going to stop you there. I'll help you find your missing body parts, if you want – if they're not too out of the way. But I'm not joining your dumb religion, and I'm not killing people. I do enough of that in my day job. Okay?"
"What's your day job?" asks Hidan with sudden suspicion.
"Ninja," says Ino. "Ninja extraordinaire."
"A kunoichi?" says Hidan. "You?"
Ino raises an eyebrow in a perfect inquisitive curve. "Hard to believe?"
"Yeah, actually. What do you do, pretty people to death?"
"Sometimes," says Ino, because it's the truth.
"Wouldn't work on me," says Hidan scornfully. "That shit doesn't distract me."
If he'd had a body, Ino might have taken that as a challenge, because what man has ever told her no, really, when she's had some time to work on him…
But he doesn't have a body, so the point is kind of moot.
"I do have some other talents," says Ino with a smirk. "When the pretty isn't enough."
"Is it something to do with your weird blind-girl eyes?" asks Hidan.
Ino has never learned to take insults well. She has, however, learned to hide the fact that she can't take insults well. So she gives him a gentle smile as she decides that it's about time to mess with him, maybe make him piss his pants a little. (Figuratively, of course, because right now, who knows where his bladder is.)
Ino reaches out a slender hand, places two fingers on Hidan's towel, and pulls it towards her, slowly, so that his head slides across the table to rest in front of her. She places her hand on the table, and her chin on her hand, and they are face to face, and she stares at him with her blue-green eyes, depthless and unnerving.
She smiles. He narrows his eyes. She just barely, barely activates her mind-body switch technique, so that her being floats at the edge of his awareness, not enough to take over and control him, but enough that he feels her there, and their spiritual selves touch.
She feels his devotion to his god, a general insatiable bloodlust, and a whole lotta crazy.
Her essence swirls around his and speaks to it a musical whisper.
His eyes widen, he gasps out a shocked stream of expletives. And Ino can understand, because the first time you feel someone else in your head – that squishy space between your ears that is the only thing in the whole world that is truly yours, or so you think – it is a profoundly disturbing thing.
"Woah, shit," says Hidan in rising panic. "Bitch is in my head. She's. In. My. Head."
Ino feels his spirit recoil, try to push her away, scramble – but here in his head, they are mere ephemeralities, and he can do nothing.
Don't worry, Hidan.
"How the fuck…?! What are you?"
I'm here to help you.
"Only Jashin talks to me like this–"
Her essence curves itself around his, comforting and stilling his flights of panic.
Shh. I'm here for you. We'll find the rest of you together.
She feels him process this, and then she feels the bits of his madness and belief click their way into a conclusion –
"He sent you to me."
Ino feels the hot surge of faith that accompanies these words. And she sees that he is really kind of crazy, because he is taking her little bit of fun mind-fuckery as a divine experience.
He truly believes. How interesting. How strange. Ino prods him along, just to see.
"I knew it. Bitch was denying it. Challenging my faith. But I knew…"
"I've heard about creatures like her."
…Yes, you have.
"She's an angel."
Wh–? Oh, yes. Absolutely. That. An angel.
Ino pulls out, then, before she damages him permanently by collapsing into a shrieking laughing fit in his head.
Hidan blinks hard after she vacates his headspace. Then he stares at her as she laughs.
"Oh my god, I was just messing with you," says Ino when her laughter has subsisted to just giggles. She wipes away a tear. "An angel. Could you be any cheesier? I mean really…"
Hidan is still staring at her with his mouth slightly open, as though the radiance of a celestial halo now illuminates her.
Ino snaps her fingers in his face. "Wake up. It was a joke."
He doesn't seem to see her hand, or really hear her at all.
"Holy fuck," he breathes. "I've been blessed by Jashin sending one of his own. To help me. To guide me."
Ino slaps him lightly on the cheek. "Snap out of it, dude. As if your killing god even has angels."
This gives him pause. "I wouldn't know. I never read the scriptures. They looked boring."
"Believe me," says Ino, "I'm not an angel. I'm just a kunoichi with a mind-fuck jutsu. Okay?"
His eyes glow at her with the strength of his belief. "I have all the proof I need."
And Ino wonders if she might not have made a small mistake.
(Gorgeous art by enecola @ tumblr!)