Okay. I think it's time to finish this. Even if I don't like how it ends, if it's my least favorite chapter, it's time to finish this. Many may have noticed that interest in the Naruto fandom is waning by even the most die-hard and loyal fans, in the wake of the atrocious three-year leap. I, myself, am finding it difficult to care what happens next, turning to other fandoms for comfort. But I don't want to leave this story unfinished, especially at the last chapter. Yes, the last chapter. So I'll finish this, and be done. Thank you very much to everyone who was very patient with the process of this story, and to everyone who reviewed. Now that I've inspired you, feel free to go write your own Kankuro/Tenten, or other alternative pairing. In my opinion, crack pairings prove an author's worth. If you can convince me that two people who have never even been in the same ROOM as each other would fall in love, you've earned yourself a gold star. So, here is the conclusion to my own little experiment, the test of my worth. Thank you for reading.
Tenten was still, her body frozen in shock, her face betraying her horror.
It was Gaara. It was Gaara! Why was he here? She looked around at her surroundings; could she possibly have the wrong place, the wrong time? No, that couldn't be- this was clearly the place, the damage shown on the trees were evidence of past fights; and she had counted ten days to the minute, although… he could have meant ten days from the night he gave her the note, not the morning she received it…
Gaara looked at her, his features registering, from what she could tell, absolutely no emotion- not amusement, irritation, loathing, curiosity, anything. She had heard that he wasn't nearly as homicidally insane anymore, he had even once helped her teammate Lee out of a tight spot with the last Kaguya; but that wasn't too long after he had crushed Lee's bones, also. She had seen him very rarely in the past, and he intimidated her every time. Was he out here to be alone, and she had interrupted him? Or, scarier still, was he waiting for her? How much had Kankuro told his brother about their nightly encounters?
Moments passed. She knew she had to say something; standing out here like an idiot was probably not her best course of action; but the only think she could manage to vocalize was "…Uhh…"
"So," he began slowly, and she still couldn't find any traces of emotion in his voice, "You're her."
Breathe. Think. Breathe. Think.
"He is on his way. I just wanted to meet you, since you seem to have become so important to him."
Tenten did not know how to respond. She didn't know Gaara was interested in Kankuro's life, but there were lots of things about both of them that she didn't know.
"What's your name?" He asked suddenly and with no hint of any real interest in the answer.
"It's… Tenten," she replied nervously. Was this going to be tonight's adventure? An awkward evening with Gaara?
He made a small noise, indicating that he had heard her but did not care. Tenten bit her bottom lip uneasily, glancing around. He had said that Kankuro was on his way, right? How far along was he? How long would she have to be alone with Gaara? He seemed like he was studying her, analyzing, judging. Was he really so concerned about the people his brother meets, or was he just curious because his brother didn't meet many people?
He took a step towards her. Startled, she took a step back. To this reaction, she saw on his face the lightest trace of a smirk.
"Are you frightened?" He asked with slight amusement. Tenten very carefully considered her reply. What was the correct answer? She was sure in this case, there would be one.
"Just… surprised," she finally decided, and it was true anyway. He didn't move any more, so it must have been the right answer.
Then, his face went alight with recognition, and he seemed to come to a conclusion he had been trying to reach. "Now I remember," he started carelessly, "where I've seen you. You fought against Temari and lived."
Tenten was horrified. He actually remembered that! She had prayed he wouldn't know her, or at least that if he did it was because she was team mates with Lee whom he didn't seem to hate, not that humiliating defeat! Her mouth slacked and she couldn't think of a single replythat she wanted him to know. Yes, I fought Temari; yes, I lost; yes, that's partially why I'm here. Oh, no… would he actually ask why she was here, or how she had met Kankuro? No, he couldn't possibly have any interest in that… but then, he HAD shown up for the sole purpose of meeting her, he just might show a vague curiosity in her first encounter with his brother. She prayed that he wouldn't as hard as she could. She wasn't stupid enough to tell Gaara that something was none of his business, and she didn't know how well he could see through lies, but he absolutely could not know that she had met Kankuro on her way to challenge Temari.
Gaara seemed to be moderately entertained by Tenten's obvious mental turmoil. He might have continued, but Tenten was saved by the sound of someone crashing through the trees towards them at top speed, making no clear effort to mask his presence. It was Kankuro. Tenten was so relieved she could have burst. My hero, she thought as Kankuro stopped on a branch above them. She had never been so happy to see him. But her smile quickly vanished as she registered the look on Kankuro's face. He was glaring at his brother, shocked and enraged, his eyes wide and his teeth bared.
"What are you doing here!" He barked, incensed. Gaara remained cool.
"I just wanted to see who it was," he replied simply with a light smirk. Tenten wondered if maybe he showed up not to see her at all, but for the sole purpose of pissing off Kankuro.
"It's not any of your business, where I go or who I see!" Kankuro snapped, and Tenten was startled to see him so vicious. He was usually much more relaxed, and besides that, she had never known anyone to ever lash out at Gaara. Unconsciously, she took a step back, hoping this argument didn't lead to bloodshed. She didn't know them well enough to know if this was common, or if it was unsafe for Kankuro.
"It does, if it will effect a mission," Gaara replied, showing for the first time slight agitation. "Your weapon was needlessly destroyed. That's bad for business."
Tenten's gut wrenched. It had been she who destroyed Karasu. Had she caused a huge problem for Kankuro? She had assumed it would inconvenience him, but she hadn't even thought that it would inconvenience Temari or Gaara. And to think, she had been so overjoyed when she did it! But, also… that was what lead to her hospitalization. Tenten suddenly felt very guilty. She didn't want to be a problem for him, and cause issues with his family and his missions. But that seemed to be what she was becoming.
Kankuro growled, unable to come up with a satisfactory reply. He had had this same argument with Temari, but Gaara wouldn't just get annoyed and walk away like she had done when he wouldn't give her a clear answer. Not wanting to do this now, he changed the subject.
"How did you find this place! I've never told you or Temari about it!"
Gaara's steady gaze remained trained upon his brother. "You've broken a trail."
Kankuro inwardly swore. That was probably true; he'd been coming here every night for a month, and after a while, made no real effort to hide his trail. It didn't seem like anything that would ever be a problem. He should have been more careful. He should have considered that someone might follow him someday, for some purpose or another! And now, Tenten…
He glanced over to her. She looked terrified. Was it because of Gaara?
"You didn't do anything to her, did you?" He shot an accusatory look to the other boy, who scoffed.
"That would hardly be necessary. I told you- I just wanted to meet her."
"And you have now, so go home!" Inwardly he was not hard pressed to admit that issuing orders to Gaara frightened him a little, as the old Gaara would have wasted no time crushing his windpipe with a grip of sand and not a second thought- but that side of Gaara had receded recently, and Kankuro hoped it wouldn't resurface, because the elder boy could not seem to control his anger. What he did out here and who with was no one's business but his own! His relationship with Tenten was a matter only between the two of them! "This is between Tenten and me! It has nothing to do with you, OR Temari! Tell her that, I know she put you up to this!"
There was a moment of heated silence as the two brothers stared hatefully at one another, expressions livid. The atmosphere was thick with tension, and Tenten was terrified that Gaara would lose it completely and splay Kankuro across half an acre. It was clear he didn't like being told what was or was not his business and more than that, issued orders. But Kankuro's expression never faltered, his determination remained steady, and after what must have been the longest minute Tenten had ever suffered through, Gaara turned his back. He began to walk towards the Sand Village. As he passed Kankuro, he paused briefly and turned towards him. Kankuro noted that his expression had changed now- instead of reflecting deep rage, he now displayed a very wicked smirk.
Kankuro gestured violently towards the direction Gaara faced, and with a whirl of sand, the younger boy was gone. Tenten let out a deep, relieving sigh, but was immediately startled again when Kankuro turned his furious eyes on her.
"Why are you here!" He demanded fiercely, his face showing none of the softness or smugness it usually held. Tenten was stunned by his attitude, for a moment she was sure her heart stopped, and then she quickly began to boil with anger.
"Because you TOLD me to come, you jackass!" She retaliated vehemently, displaying the same savage hatred she had shown him on their first encounter. His sudden shift in personality towards her confused and enraged her. How could he possibly be angry with her? She had only done as he had asked, she was expecting Gaara's arrival just as much as Kankuro was!
Kankuro's expression remained, his assault on her continued. "I mean, why do you KEEP coming here? I'm not who you want to fight, and there are a million ways to get around me! You could take a different path, or come at an earlier time!"
"I keep coming here because I said I would!" she spat venomously, "And YOU said you would, too! You said you wouldn't let me pass until I beat you, and I agreed! What's so difficult about that!"
"So you keep coming because you feel honor bound to come?" he raged harshly, and Tenten's stomach tightened. She realized that she was shaking slightly, but couldn't seem to make it stop. Tears threatened to fill her eyes, but she held them back as hard as she could, not wanting to display a weakness now, not wanting to break down now. What brought on this anger he was displaying she couldn't say for certain, but she was starting to see where it was leading.
"I come here because I want to come!" She yelled, and Kankuro scoffed visibly.
"You come here because you want to fight. Even after what happened last time, you've brought your arsenal now," he sneered, gesturing towards the weapons she visibly wore, and her blood boiled with intense rage, and at the same time, her heart felt as though it was being crushed with a fist, and it hurt.
"You didn't leave me any instructions not to!" It was very difficult for her now not to sound hurt by his words, but she managed to restrain the tears, which fought and burned the back of her eyes. "In fact, your note said we would 'try again'! What was I supposed to take that to mean!" There was a prolonged moment of stifling silence, the air between them was thick with heated tension. Kankuro seemed to straighten up and collect himself, but the harsh anger in his eyes did not subside.
"I'm tired of this game, now," he started, and despite the obvious aggression, she was slightly surprised to hear underlying tones of weariness and pain in his voice. "I don't want to fight you anymore. Go home."
And with those cold words, he turned his back on her and disappeared into the dark shadows of the trees. Tenten found herself momentarily blinded by her own watering eyes as she watched him go, it seemed so surreal, did that actually happen? Was it possible that she was still laying in that hospital bed, having a nightmare? Or maybe that wasn't Kankuro at all, that certainly wasn't the Kankuro she knew! But the pain was real, and the tears were real, and it all became a horrible reality as the weight of what had just transpired came crashing down on her, and before she knew it she was turning and speeding towards Konoha, the tears burning a salty trail down her cheeks. She could not stop them now, she did not try. All she knew was that she needed to get away, needed to run, to go to a place where pain didn't exist, maybe she could outrun her despair. She didn't understand what had just happened, but it hurt. She hurt like she had never been hurt before.
He's so stupid! She thought as she ran, teeth gritted in a feeble attempt to hold in her choking sobs, So stupid! What is his problem? It was his idea! He told me to come back, and so I did! How can he get angry for that? I haven't done anything to offend him! I've done everything he's ever asked!
She wiped her reddening eyes on the back of her arm, but the hot tears continued to flow. Her heart thudded violently against her chest, threatening to crush itself against her ribs.
I shouldn't have come tonight! I shouldn't have started coming at all! How could I let a stupid guy like that get to me! I hate him! I wish I'd never met him! I can't believe I actually missed him! I can't believe I wanted to see him!
She stopped running to avoid stumbling when her legs began to give way under her, and rested against the trunk of an old oak tree, shaking from anger and sorrow and confusion. Her eyes were still streaming, hiccuping from the sobs she was repressing, wishing she could stop crying, stop hurting, brush the whole matter off, but she couldn't.
I can't believe he would say those things to me! Questioning my motives! I thought we were friends! What did he mean, he's tired of this game? What did all those nights mean to him? Was he making a toy of me, all this time? Was I an evening's entertainment? Or does he think I was toying with him, using him in some way?
As she thought this, she suddenly bolted upright, realization swept through her as though she had just been struck by lightening. Instantly, her crying ceased. She knew what had caused this, she knew what she could do to fix it. Was it too late?
Turning quickly back towards the Wind Country, she shot off into the night, faster than she ever knew she could run. Along the way, she discarded various weapons, flinging them haphazardly into the grass and trees, feeling that they were slowing her down with their excess weight, and at this moment, speed was the most important thing in the world. The fact that they slowed her down may or may not have been true, but she felt faster releasing them. She wouldn't be needing them now.
She had to catch up to Kankuro. She understood now. She understood! He was feeling used! He was feeling that she still only had one objective in mind, to pass him by! He was frustrated because he thought she still only viewed him as an obstacle! He was feeling like a tool! Gaara's arrival angered him, because it forced him to realize that they couldn't continue every night they way they had been without the nature of their relationship being questioned by others, and he didn't know what the answer was, he assumed her view of him was completely different from his view of her! He assumed she didn't want a relationship past fighting, that after her fight with Temari she planned to never see him again! Couldn't he see that that was no longer the case? Couldn't he see that she was using these fights as an excuse to see him every night?
You are so stupid, Kankuro! She thought as she determinedly swept through the maze of trees, and passed their usually meeting place, where too recently she'd had her heart broken. Do you really still think this is about Temari? Can't you see through this façade of mine?
She had never gone this far into the Wind Village before and she was starting to fear she was getting lost. Kankuro knew this area well and would undoubtedly be very fast, while she was slowed down. She tried not to panic. It was very important that she stop him, or she might never see him again! She plunged ahead desperately, hoping to catch sight of him, or at least signs of the trail Gaara had said he followed.
"KANKURO!" If she called out his name, would he stop? Would he allow her the time it took for her to catch up, would he hear her? Or would he run faster?
"PLEASE, WAIT!" Did he really never want to see her again? Was he truly just tired of being near her? Would he not even listen to her explanation, her confession? It had taken her this long to understand him, was she wrong? Or was he tired of waiting?
She had almost lost all hope, almost lost the fight, almost forfeit to futility, when she caught a glimpse of something in the distance. Her heart stopped again for an increasingly dangerous number of times that night as she followed the vision, which grew into a silhouette of a person.
He had stopped and waited for her. So he did care, after all.
When Tenten caught up to him, she had to stop and catch her breath before she could speak. He watched her silently with cold, narrow eyes, his hands casually and uncaringly in his pockets, and he waited for her to speak. If her blood was boiling before, it was freezing now. She took a deep breath.
"You're such a jerk!" She began intensely, and for a moment, Kankuro was startled. Was that really what she had followed him this far to say?
"Why did you get angry? Do you really still think this is about Temari?…" She continued, her eyes were questioning and her voice was pained. "I told you before! I stopped caring about that a long time ago! I come to fight… because it's my only excuse to see you!"
She had his full attention now, she could tell, and she found that the words she hadn't in the least bit rehearsed or even knew she wanted to say came to her with astounding ease.
"I don't even want to fight Temari anymore. It isn't important! I understand now that my desire for revenge was childish and ridiculous… you helped me realize that! That part of me is in the past. That fight is in the past!" Her voice was now increasingly desperate as she poured her heart out and prayed he would understand what she was trying to say. "But even when I knew that was true, I kept coming! Even if I'd won, I still would have come back the next day! I know why you got angry… I've been so stupid! You must have felt… used… and by breaking Karasu, I must have caused you so many problems! I'm sorry… I'm sorry, okay! I thought this was the only way we could meet! I thought you wanted to fight, and so I came prepared to meet your expectations, because it meant spending the evening again with you! Do you… Do you understand what I'm saying?…" She trailed off at the end, her heart pounding, her eyes pleading, hopeful, fearful, and anticipating.
Kankuro regarded her for a long moment, registering every word she had said, weighing her resolution. Her eyes were watery, her cheeks were stained with tears, and he understood how serious she was. When he finally spoke, his voice no longer held the dangerous sharpness that had cut her before, but rather a quiet softness, tinted with his usual smug attitude.
"You could have just asked me out on a date."
Despite herself, Tenten laughed a little.
"You're such a jerk!" She said again, as a fresh flow of tears streamed down her cheeks. At the same time, she was greatly relieved. In his own smart-ass way, he accepted her apology, and he understood what she had said. She was so grateful it was actually making her cry again. She rubbed her eyes, trying to forcibly stop them to stop watering, trying to hide her face. "I wish you had told me off in a nicer way!"
He laughed slightly, and took a step closer to her. "I wish you had said all that sooner, so that I wouldn't have felt the need to tell you off. We're both guilty."
She nodded silently, finding that speaking anymore was coming with great difficulty, feeling worn out, exhausted, like she'd lived a thousand lives in one night. She managed to stop the tears- they were ridiculous, really- and was trying to wipe her face, to hide the traces of her weakness. How awful she must look! She'd used to hope that if she ever found herself in this situation, she'd at least look good, not wind blown and tear streaked and half dead from exhaustion. He smiled at her and shook his head, and she cursed him for being able to stay looking so good, so very good, at pretty much all times.
Catching the slightest hint of her jealous pout as her fingers went to her hair as if in an attempt to straighten it, a warm smile lit Kankuro's face. It was like he'd never been angry. How could he be angry? He could be so brash. It was a little painful, knowing how much he must have hurt her for her to come barreling towards him with tears streaming down her face, and he'd seen the shocked, wounded look in her eyes when he snapped at her, but he just couldn't seem to stop the anger. Everything she'd said was true; he had been feeling like an obstacle in her path, something she would move past upon his defeat, and nothing more. Like anything else, any other relationship, any feelings attached, were all his own. And if that were the case, he wanted it done. That may have been fine when they first met, but now that he'd gotten to know her, started to care about her progress, about her health, about her; if his care was one sided, he would rather not have it. And so he tried to severe the ties, to break away, before someone- before he- could get hurt. He'd broken her heart because he couldn't face his own weakness.
But then, she called his name. And he froze, down to his very core. He saw her face, and she looked so desperate, her eyes pleading with him to give her a chance to explain, her weapons all discarded. And in her own, Tenten-like way, she confessed all the same feelings he'd held for her.
And now here she was, looking a mess, looking beautiful.
The kunoichi was startled slightly by the brush of his skin on her face as he gently raised her chin and forced their eyes to meet. She turned a little pink and averted her eyes, but he held his gaze. She could feel it, even looking away, the heat of his dark eyes on her, burning holes through her, tearing down all her defenses. She didn't understand how he could hold so much power over her, so much to make her feel weak in the knees at the look in his eyes, the sound of his voice, his lingering touch. And she wished she knew why she was so enthralled by the smell of his clothes, the shape of his eyes, the slight breeze blowing through his hair. She wanted to keep all of it, every bit of it, for herself. She never wanted to miss him again, she never wanted to hurt him again, and she never wanted him to stop looking at her with those warm, gentle eyes. The eyes reserved just for her.
And now his hand was cupping her face and she was blushing so hot it was a wonder she didn't catch fire. His fingers brushed up her face to her hitai-ate, slid under the thick material and swiftly pulled it off her head, dropping it to the ground. Now, the two of them were even.
"I meant it when I said I didn't want to fight you anymore," he began seriously. "When we last fought, I nearly killed you. For about three hours, I thought I did. It was… the worst feeling of my life. I don't want to do that again." He frowned slightly, and shook his head, but continued, looking steadily into her eyes. "Sorry I snapped at you back there. And, while I'm on the subject-" he laughed slightly- "Sorry I stabbed you, too." He then smiled viciously, and added, "But you should have been able to dodge that. Really, I was very disappointed in you."
"Maybe you shouldn't have shown up with POISONED blades!" She returned with a playful smirk. "I don't forgive you at all. I think you owe me."
"In that case, I don't forgive you for incinerating Karasu, and I think you owe me."
"Alright, alright," she threw up her hands defensively, "I think we can call it fair. Even if by doing so, we're putting my life on the same level as a life sized dolly." She smiled at him, an eyebrow raised coyly, and brushed her bangs out of her eyes. She felt more comfortable now; the tension in the air seemed to have lifted since they began teasing each other again. She was glad he wasn't angry with her anymore, but now there was a new question.
"So, Kankuro," she began slowly, with only a slight hint of timidity which she seemed to by trying to cover up by shifting her weight, "If we aren't going to fight… what will we do?…"
"Well," he began, looking intently at her with a wicked grin, "I thought we'd do a whole lot of this."
And without a word of warning, he suddenly leaned forward and pressed his lips firmly against her own in a dizzying kiss. Tenten was startled senseless at first, but very quickly her mind flooded with endorphins, and she responded, returning the kiss with equal passion. Her hands gripped the front of his shirt and his arms wrapped around her body tightly, the world seemed to disappear around them, and when they finally broke apart, he did not lessen his hold on her, but instead buried his face in her hair. She pressed her face into his shoulder, and they stood that way in silence, absorbing each other's warmth, inhaling each other's scent, being in each other's arms, and it felt good. It felt right. Like some empty hole had been filled. And they realized then that even if they hadn't known it before, they had been wanting this for a long time now.
"So…" Kankuro finally spoke after several moments, "…that was my idea. Unless you have a better one."
Tenten laughed, blushing madly. "I think I like that idea."
"Good. If you didn't, I'd have to keep trying until you did," he grinned. Tenten smiled and pulled away from him. She picked her forehead protector up off the ground, but did not put it on.
"It might be difficult to maintain a relationship from two separate countries," she stated seriously. Kankuro seemed unphased.
"We've done pretty good so far."
"So we're just going to keep meeting half way?…" She raised a questioning eyebrow at him, and he shrugged, smiling.
"For starters. Then we'll see."
Tenten crossed her arms, looking amused. It was true that their relationship had progressed just fine so far on a nightly meeting half way between their respective countries. There was no reason to discontinue. After a while, maybe she would even be able to convince him to come visit her at home.
Of course, he was probably plotting the same thing.
"Fine," she smiled. "But can we at least change our meetings to daytime?"
"I sleep 'til noon!" She protested, but she could tell he was kidding. He threw an arm affectionately around her shoulders, drawing her close to him, and turning to her, he smiled into her hair.
"How did I ever end up attracted to a little green leaf like you?" he asked, mostly to himself, in amusement.
"You must have very good taste," Tenten replied with a smug little smile. Kankuro laughed, and drew her in for another kiss.
"You must be right."