With Five Steps Down

Five days from this night, Tenten will laugh as she tugs the dark strap off, unbuttoning it and sliding it down his right shoulder. She will smile and kiss him, grasp his dark hair and pull it out of the simple black band that binds it. She will run her fingers through it, marveling at how silky it feels.

Right now, though, she flips and folds streaming shining silver strings, threading them through her fingers. There are daggers on the end of the strings, sharp and shiny and ready to hurt things. From every character on her massive scroll, she will summon a weapon, though now she doesn't much need them.

Four men surround her. Large and burly, with arms and legs all thick and meaty, like the belly of a bull. They are not shinobi, because shinobi focus on speed and silence, not brute strength. There are more than four, of course. Technically. But only the men who surround her at each cardinal point are important. The others cannot attack her just yet, and will not get the chance to attack her at all.

She knows that somewhere near her are Neji and Lee. Whatever she can't clean up herself, they'll get for her.

They all three of them wear trust in their partners with the comfort and ease of wearing a parent's shirt.

Five days from this night, she will pull the collars of his haori aside and he will let her. She will trace her hands along the hard, flat planes of his chest. She will push him to rest on the futon and kiss along his neck, and he will tremble at her touch.
But now there are four men who think they have the perfect position, who think they will win. There are four men and four kunai with flat hard cold metal and four strings made out of silver and whimsy. Four enemies who think they will watch her bleed. Tenten knows better.

She is the one who trembles, twitching slightly as she tries to keep her body ready for their attacks. Step, step, step. She moves, they move, it is almost like a dance, only she has too many partners and none of them has any rhythm.

Five days from this night, he will lose control at about the moment she licks the place where his carotid juts out from under his skin. His hands will encircle her waist, will slide up and down. He will not know where he wants to touch her, so he will try to touch her everywhere.

That isn't going to work, though, because he only has two hands and she has a lot of body. And she will tease him with that fact, deliberately squirming and writhing under his touch, bringing his attention to how much he could be touching but isn't.

But there is no skin under Tenten's hands yet. No, there is cold, cold metal and that jumpy adrenaline feeling. Her hands shake but she forces herself to move.

One. The first kunai lands in the throat of the man to the north. He makes a gurgling sound, but she has pierced his jugular. He will bleed out. No. He is bleeding out.

Five days from this night, she will laugh at the fact that he will stare at her throat. He will lick the white skin she hides behind a pink collar. He will lick his lips, too, in anticipation of finally getting to touch where he has wanted to touch for years.

Five days from this night, he will pull her into his lap and trace a finger along the back of her neck. For once, he will look directly at her. For once, she will have not only his recognition and respect but his complete and undivided attention. He will take his time in revealing all the softer, paler parts of her.

Two. The second kunai whirls through the air, spinning and shining. It first cuts through the man to the east, striking at his ribs. She has not used sharp enough chakra; it does not slice through the bones in his ribcage. But that is just fine, the hard metal cracks one of his ribs and he grunts in pain.

She flicks her wrist, snapping the kunai out of the first man's throat. Another flick of the wrist and it buries itself in the second man's groin. She cuts through arteries, very possibly the femoral artery. He goes down without much more fight.

Five days from this night, he will undo the second button with a mix of hesitation and anticipation. She will see it in the way his hands tremble; in the way he licks his lips and half-looks away.

His fingers will linger on the silk of her shirt, pulling the knot out of a loop entirely too slowly for her tastes. His fingers will gently pull the halves of her shirt apart, tracing along her skin. She will shiver and laugh, and run a hand through his hair.

He will kiss her, then, and she will kiss him back. She would laugh at the thought that anything could ever be sparkles and smiles and just perfect between them, but this will probably come close as anything. The first times usually do, don't they?

Three. This is not the first time she has killed a man. This is not the first time she has killed two men. This is not her first time in a fight. This is not her first time.

Tenten ducks under the third man's knife. Steel flashes, whirling up and into him. She slides the dagger between his ribs. It makes a thick, wet sound as the metal pierces his heart.

He gasps a little, looking more surprised than anything else. He has no real time for pain: four thin lines appear along his neck almost instantly, deep and red. Within moments, he bleeds out from the fine lines left by her senbon.

Five days from this night, Neji will hastily unbutton her shirt the rest of the way and cast it aside. His hands will move first to her shoulders, then lower.

She will gasp at the feeling of warm hands where others have never touched her. She will smile and put her hands on his bare shoulders, leaning up to kiss him and tracing thin, fine lines along his skin.

And he will kiss her back with a kiss that burns her mouth.

Four. She turns, dropping the kunai and taking out a dao. The sword is thick and heavy and wide. That weight and size are precisely why she chooses it.

She kills the fourth with sharp steel and sharper chakra. The edges of her energy are thin and brittle, snapping dry along the edges of her sword. Blood turns the blade wet.

She stops, taking in several deep breaths. Her heartbeat sped up at some point during the fight, and it is only know that she notices.

Five days from this night, his lips will trail along her jaw, down to her throat, where her pulse beats hard and fast.

She will laugh and put her hand in his hair, flushing at the way his lips make her feel.

And he will tug at her pants, and she will unbutton them and slide them off, forced to half-stand. When she sits back down, she will tug at the strings keeping up his trousers. The knots will come undone with fair ease.

It is so easy to turn around and pinpoint Neji's location. He bends down to take a scroll from a corpse, tension written in every single one of his muscles.

Something is bothering him.

"What's wrong?" She asks, moving to stand near him.

"It's too easy."

"Smelling a trap?"

Lee lands soundlessly behind her. She only knows it's Lee because she can feel his chakra, warm and strong and kind. She looks over her shoulder, sees that green spandex and finds herself smiling.

"There is no trap, Neji. I have disabled it!"

The pride in his voice is obvious. Her smile grows.

"Konoha will not expect our arrival for another eight days," Lee says. "We have done our job not only well, but very quickly! Gai-sensei will be impressed!"

Neji is quiet for a moment. When he turns around, he is wearing his business face. "Lee, go on ahead to Konoha. Inform Tsunade that we've completed the preliminary investigation. Tenten and I will stay here."

Lee goes.

Neji turns to her, one hand gripping her shoulder. She watches the shadows of trees grow longer and longer, twisting and writhing along the ground.

Five days from this night, their bodies will mingle and strive against each other, casting strange shadows on the wall.

and the mississippis mighty
but it starts in minnesota
at a place that you could walk across
with five steps down
and i guess thats how you started
like a pinprick to my heart
but at this point you rush right through me
and i start to drown
— indigo girls: "ghost"

(el fin; 17 september 2006)