|The Middle Ground
Author: SkItZoFrEaK PM
If she lets him get too far away, she'll lose him. If he lets her in too close, he'll be skewered. Their best bet is somewhere in the middle ground. Shino. Tenten. Rated for violence and some language.Rated: Fiction M - English - Adventure/Romance - Shino A. & Tenten - Chapters: 26 - Words: 112,034 - Reviews: 636 - Favs: 575 - Follows: 245 - Updated: 05-29-10 - Published: 10-31-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4627879
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Notes: Happens a couple years down the line – the gang is late teens. Also, I have seen Shino's bugs called many names, depending on the translation (kikai, kikaichu, kikkai, destruction beetles, etc). I went with "kikkai." Also, I don't do –san and –kun or other suffixes, largely because they confuse me, partially because I am not writing in Japanese.
Goals: A good fight scene, a plausible line of reasoning for how Tenten would fight Shino, in character (for more specifics on what exactly I mean by that, please see my profile notes for this story), and of course, general coherency
Warnings: No spoilers yet. Some violence. This is a rough draft, so a little unpolished.
"I bet I can take you."
He looked over at her, or at least turned his head in her general direction. It was hard to tell, what with the reflective glasses, high collar, and low hood, exactly where Aburame Shino was looking most of the time. But Tenten was definitely getting a 'looked-at' kind of feeling.
"I mean, sure you're a jounin and I'm only a chunin," she wiggled her fingers at him casually, "and I would have to catch you off guard to do it. But I bet I can take you."
Shino didn't seem inclined to respond, but Tenten didn't mind. It had been kind of a random thing to say to a guy you barely knew, after all. But heck, they'd been camped out in these hills for almost three whole days now, and she'd given up on small talk almost as soon as they'd left Konoha. All overtures of pleasant chit chat had been met with noncommittal noises or short, efficient statements. So Tenten had stuck to mission-related conversation, like "the perimeter is secure," "target acquired, I'm tracking," and "I'll take first watch tonight."
She'd never really liked spying missions, especially the kind where she was really only there for backup in the event things went wrong. So far, things were going obnoxiously well. Shino's kikkai had located the target some five hours into the countryside. The target was apparently unaware of the surveillance, and had no identifiable support in the area. He was meeting various underground runners and hitmen, trying to network himself in with the local crime bosses. The man himself was a low-level gangster, a mild threat at best. The three crime bosses he was trying to unite in a powerful syndicate of evil (or whatever; Tenten personally thought the target was kind of an idiot) were all top-notch villains. Fortunately, they currently seemed disinclined to join forces, and so the mission stayed relatively uneventful. And boring.
So while Shino observed the target, Tenten amused herself by observing Shino. It didn't take long to form some very interesting conclusions.
One, Aburame Shino preferred subtle, twisty little maneuvers over flashy moves. Two, he could control insects that were not his personal hive of kikkai only so long as they were within a certain range, and then only for short periods of time.
And three, she could so totally take him. So, being bored, honest, and Tenten, she had told him so.
The surprising part was that he answered. "How?"
Tenten opened her mouth to reply, then closed it and held her breath as something creaked out in the darkness of the trees around them. She concentrated for a moment, pulling a small amount of chakra up to her ears to sensitize her hearing. "We are currently secure," Shino remarked, and she relaxed. "I have several kikkai throughout the surrounding area."
Tenten drew a rough circle in the dirt with her toe, with an X in the center. "Like this, with you at the middle?"
He nodded. She made a little triangle on the circle's edge with one finger. "And if one of them detects something, for example, over here?" She tried to keep her voice only mildly curious, but he must have heard the leading edge in it because he merely looked at her (in that might-not-be-looking-but-probably-is sort of way again) for a long moment.
"If I determined it to be a threat," he said, "I would attack with the rest of them."
"That's how I'd win," she smiled. "Element of surprise." Tenten flicked her fingers towards him as if throwing a handful of invisible senbon needles. "Get your bugs distracted by something they view as a threat, then draw them away far enough until you were forced to physically follow yourself." She drew another circle in the dirt, this time centered on the triangle, with the X barely on the edge farthest from the triangle. "So your focus would move this direction, and the sentry bugs behind you would be thinner and closer to your body on the opposite side."
"Close enough to allow an accurate long-range fighter to get a shot at me," he finished for her. She wrinkled her nose at him, a little disappointed that he had stolen her thunder so easily. In fact, he didn't sound even slightly surprised or concerned as she pointed out his potential downfall.
"That's the plan."
"That shot would have to be a killing blow," Shino told her. "Once I knew your true direction, you would be unable to get near me again."
She sniffed at him good naturedly. "True direction? What makes you think I'd sit around and wait for you to counterattack?"
"You would not. But I would only need to know your general direction for a moment. Then it would be relatively easy to send out a handful of female kikkai to locate you, and once you had one of them on you, there would be no hiding."
"Sure, but that wouldn't do you any good if the first blow was a killer, and I am a very good shot, you know."
He shrugged again. "It would not be a killing blow."
Oddly enough, Tenten didn't feel particularly angry at this announcement. Shino had an odd way of saying things that ought to have been insulting but merely came out sounding like fact. "What, you're just too sexy for knives to touch or something?"
Okay, maybe she was a little tetchy. How could he possibly be so sure she would miss him?
"You would miss," Shino went on doggedly, as if her petty little retort had sailed right over him, "because your attack was based on the assumption that I wouldn't see it coming."
"But you already agreed that your bugs would be thinner from the opposing side of the fake threat," Tenten pointed out. "And that I'd be able to get close enough to target you from that angle."
He nodded his head once in acquiescence. "However, I did not say that I wouldn't be aware of you. I don't need you to be in close physical proximity with a kikkai to sense your presence."
"I could be targeting you from almost a hundred feet away." Tenten felt impressed despite herself. "Your range is that good?"
He shrugged. "There are other eyes in the forest," was all he said. "Just because my kikkai are primarily concerned with something in one direction doesn't mean I must totally shut myself off from the other directions."
"But you can't work through other bugs as easily as your kikkai," Tenten leaned forward eagerly. "And it wears you out faster. So all I'd have to do is keep you sufficiently occupied with the distraction until you're too tired to communicate with the other bugs. Or, if possible, force you out of the trees and somewhere less friendly to insects."
Tenten pointed a finger to the west, towards the faint sound of distant running water. "River," she said triumphantly.
Shino seemed to ponder this for awhile. "It is unlikely that you would be able to drive me into such an environment without revealing yourself," he said at last.
"Maybe that first shot wasn't the killing blow – maybe it was just a way to get your attention on me, so I could lead you to the river."
"The river is narrow, and there are several rotting logs along it's shore."
"Where bugs like to hang out, I know. But," she held up a hand and started ticking her fingers off with each point. "One, I know that summoning and controlling other bugs wears you out – don't argue, I've had nothing to do for days but watch you work, so I know I'm right – two, you also seem to have a general aversion to water, so getting you out of your comfort zone could only be to my advantage, and three, about a mile south of here, that river turns into a lake. A wide lake, with very few trees along the shore line." She grinned and smacked a fist into an open palm for emphasis. "Sterile arena."
"Another assumption," Shino leaned back against the tree behind him, uncrossing his legs and crooking one knee up in front of him. "I would never allow you to get as far as the lake, because I know that the area would be unfavorable."
"Yeah, but the only way you could stop me would be to catch me with your kikkai. And I'm pretty confident I could avoid them if I kept a decent amount of distance between us."
"Are you?" If his voice had sounded even slightly amused or patronizing, Tenten might have actually attempted to attack her mission partner right then and there. But he merely sounded interested, as if he had no idea whether or not she could pull off such a feat and wanted to know.
"Like I said, if I kept the fight long range, you would never have a chance to direct one or any kikkai at me without me seeing it coming. And so long as I saw it, I could stop it." He raised a questioning eyebrow, but Tenten wiggled a reproving finger at him. "Uh uh. Like I'd tell you that! But trust me, I'm pretty confident I could stop a small amount of kikkai, and avoid a large swarm."
"Then let us assume that I have allowed you to lure me out onto the lake. Then what?" He folded his arms across his chest, looking completely at ease in the flickering light of their fire. "Making me uncomfortable is a long way from defeating me."
"My original principle still stands," Tenten declared, pulling out a kunai and flipping it absently in her hand. "It's in my best interest to finish any fight against you as quickly as I can. Unfortunately, out in the open would be too hard to hit you long range, so I'd have to make it close-quarters combat."
"And my kikkai would overwhelm you long before you got close enough to deal damage."
"Maybe," she shook her head. "Maybe not. It would come down to speed, at that point. If I were faster than you, I could get in past your shields and land a finishing blow."
"How fast are you?" Shino asked.
"Very," Tenten answered. "For example -"
Her hand flashed out, and the kunai she had been toying with blurred and vanished into the trees to the right of their camp. A heartbeat later, the exploding tag she had quietly attached to it detonated with an echoing boom! Tenten and Shino were already on their feet and halfway up the trees on the opposite side of the camp as the fiery mushroom cloud blossoming between the trees lit up the night beyond their campfire.
A dark body plunged out of the burning trees and into their abandoned campsite. He stumbled across the ground, then regained his feet fast enough to avoid the dozen shuriken that buried themselves in a neat row at his feet. The stranger looked up long enough for Tenten to get a good look at his features in the last fading light of the explosion. It was the target.
"I knew there were two of you," he yelled into the trees, then launched himself up towards them. "You've been following me!"
"Busted," Tenten called cheerfully across to Shino. A black cloud of kikkai swirled up and knocked away a smoke bomb before it could explode in their faces. Tenten took the opportunity to leap to a taller tree – victory often went to the one with the high ground, after all – and took a small scroll from her hip pouch. Finally, a little action!
But when the dark purple smoke cleared, the enemy was gone.
Tenten reached out with her senses, feeling for the man's chakra. For a brief second she marked him right and below – and then the signature vanished. Crap. He must have some kind of concealing technique. She swung her senses a little further and marked Shino's chakra signature somewhere to the left. But even as she turned towards him, she felt his energy surge and...dissipate. What the - ?
A little black spot on her sleeve drew her attention. Ah, she thought. The kikkai. He's hiding his chakra by dispersing it with the kikkai all over the freaking forest.
Which meant her whole hypothetical plan to defeat him was more or less moot. Never mind sneaking up on him – she'd never be able to find him.
Something heavy embedded itself in the wood near her foot with a muted thunk, and Tenten leaped away from the thrown kunai. Tenten took that as a sign that now was a good time to think about defeating her enemy. She could think about defeating her ally later.
Flipping around in midair, she unfurled the scroll and sent a line of spiked metal balls back along the enemy kunai's trajectory. The little metal projectiles smashed through several trees branches, crushed a couple trunks, and finally fell down to the earth below with a series of crunches. It was an impressive display of area damage; but her enemy was unfortunately not among the wreckage. Quick little bastard.
Tenten pondered the situation as she followed the little black kikkai that Shino had apparently sent her. The opponent was fast, so slow-moving area bombs weren't going to get him anytime soon. But it was so dark that she'd be unable to visually pinpoint him with a bladed weapon, and without a strong chakra signature to target, she was throwing daggers at shadows.
Another kunai flew by her head, then a third. Unable to find Shino, the jerk was apparently targeting her instead. Well, at least he was practically feeding her ammunition, so she didn't have to waste her own weapons on potshots in the dark. She caught the fourth kunai and flung it back, with an added exploding tag to express her gratitude. The fireball lit up the area for a few precious seconds, but he was nowhere in sight.
"I can't get a lock on his chakra," Shino's voice murmured from behind her. "I need something else to draw the kikkai."
A dim red glow above her caught her eye, and she launched herself forward, turning to face upward as her body moved forward, and threw a steady stream of shuriken towards the faint light. The shuriken whirred through the empty air, but before they would lose momentum and fall uselessly to the ground, she flexed her fingers. The thin wires attached to each weapon flexed with her joints, and redirected the shuriken to arc in several directions at once. A thin stream of chakra in each wire allowed her to feel when each shuriken struck wood and stopped moving. None of them hit flesh. Damn. Lost him again. She flexed with her hands one last time and pulled her shuriken back towards herself, catching them between her outstretched fingers. Tenten tucked the shuriken back into her pouch as she landed neatly on a branch. No use losing a dozen good weapons.
Shino appeared suddenly at her side, grabbed her arm, and yanked her towards him. She tucked and rolled her shoulder, using him as a pivot point to swing up and away from the four strange-looking blades that flew in tight formation right through the space she had been occupying. The blades glowed a dull red with a foreign chakra, then shattered into dull, glassy fragments as the chakra faded. She wasn't sure what exactly they were, but Tenten bet they would have hurt.
Her body reached the peak of Shino's swing range, and he let go. Tenten sailed through the trees, flipped, and pushed off a trunk back towards her partner. He was already gone from sight, but a handful of kikkai wound around her wrist, tugging her briefly towards the left. Then the bugs scattered back into the darkness. "Got it," she breathed, hoping the bugs would hear without the enemy picking up on the sound. She pushed through the forest in the direction Shino had showed her, jumping lower and lower until she hit the ground running. She didn't bother trying to hide her footsteps or her chakra signature.
A second later, the enemy took the bait. Tenten heard the faint rustle of wind in his clothes as he ran along the trees above her. She focused her chakra and blocked out the sounds of her own movement – careful now, focus, focus, only need him for a second – there!
She jumped, twisted, and flicked a wrist. In the dark, the kunai gleamed like a shooting star as it streaked towards the opponent. He saw the gleam coming and dodged – straight into the pitch-darkened senbon she'd thrown so fast it almost seemed to be the same movement. The needle buried itself in his left hand, and Tenten allowed herself a small smile of triumph.
A hail of the odd glowing red blades cascaded down towards her, and for a few moments Tenten had no time for anything but dodging. One, two, three, four, just like last time -
Five! Too late to dodge; she threw up an arm to block -
The blade plunged into a black sphere of kikkai that appeared in front of her. The bugs buzzed angrily, swarming around the glowing blade, and then seemed to collapse in on it, shattering it like glass.
Above her, a man screamed. Tenten landed back on the ground, skidding a little in the loose dirt. She crouched, summoning a chain-mace and whirling the heavy weighted end. But nothing dropped out of the trees to attack her.
"It's over," Shino said quietly from her elbow. Behind him, a swarm of kikkai seemed to melt away from a dark, unmoving object. The bugs twisted into long tendrils that undulated and withdrew back into Shino's heavily-cloaked body. Tenten eyed the corpse of their opponent for a second, then sighed.
"So I take it that worked, then?"
He nodded. "The kikkai were able to target the blood from his injury. I found him with little difficulty."
She shrugged. "Yeah, well, sorry I didn't do more."
"You kept him occupied, and you marked him for me. That was sufficient."
"You did a good job too," Tenten said wryly. "At least he won't be forming any big-scale crime syndicates now," she sighed, stretching her neck. "So. Home?"
"This mission is over."
"I'll say it is," she looked back once more at the corpse, then turned away.
"Hey, Shino…race you home!"