La Verità Dolce



"I can't."

Of course not. Tenten squeezed her eyes shut to stop tears. She was frustrated, afraid, and desperate.

"You realize that by saying no, you're forcing me to turn to a life of danger and dishonor."

"And the implications of your request do not call into question my honor and sense of decorum?" Shikamaru returned icily. "It's not as if I want you to become a prostitute, but your situation is by no means my fault. My refusal doesn't change the option that has always existed for you."

"But you could say yes!" Tenten urged, grabbing his hands in supplication. "Please! You could change my life, make it better. All I'm asking for is a chance."

"Do you have any idea what they would do to you if you were caught? What they would do to us both? The resulting scandal would, at the very least, ensure that neither of us would be able to show our faces in Rome again. Who knows what the worst would be? Torture, prison, death? The risks aren't worth it."

"But they're worth it to me," Tenten pleaded. Her hands squeezed his urgently.

"We would both be punished if the authorities found out," Shikamaru pointed out, weakly pulling his hands out of hers, but she knew she'd already won.

"You know I can help you. Ino's always complaining that the chores don't get done…I'm more than capable of looking after the horses and keeping up the grounds."

"If my wife finds out the new apprentice I'm taking on is a woman…"

"But she won't. I'll be in the studio all day. You know she doesn't like to get dirty."

Shikamaru smirked in spite of himself. Her statement had been true enough, but Ino was full of surprises…

"There are sleeping quarters in that wing of the house; don't go to the other wing unless you absolutely have to. Ino's far from stupid. If she spends enough time with you she'll figure it out, and she knows I'm too smart to be tricked by a disguise if she does. She'll know I hired you with the full knowledge of what you are. Don't take risks. The other students are bright enough but they won't be as difficult to fool."

Tenten nodded solemnly.

Shikamaru glanced at her gravely. "You realize this is very dangerous. I can't even pay you that much."

Tenten nodded. "Anything's better than a Roman brothel, Mr. Nara."