Culture Shock

Chapter 11: In the Dark

A/N: It's probably worth noting that movies are not anachronistic; the first Naruto movie involves filming a movie, and I think that they mention Jiraiya working on an Itcha Itcha Film. So, no, I watched myself on that one.

But, seriously, what do Itachi and Kisame do for fun?

Kisame was snoring in front of the TV screen as the credits rolled on the last movie Itachi thought he could watch without screaming.

"Kisame, wake up."


"I'm going to bed. Good night."

Kisame smiled at him through half-closed eyes. "Good night, then, 'Tachi."

Saying goodnight to Kisame was one of the high points of Itachi's daily life. There was something homey about it, the adult equivalent of being tucked into bed by your big brother. He thought that Kisame had maybe had a large family once, but the Mist nin never talked about them, and Itachi knew better than to ask.

"Hey, could you take Mystery Girl some soup or something?" Kisame asked. "I don't think anyone's remembered to feed her since this morning, and we don't want her ending up like Tobi's goldfish." He must have seen Itachi freeze. "She won't bite, you know. Think about her life so far. You're probably the nicest guy she's ever met. And that's just plain pathetic," he added as an afterthought.

"You again," Temari said when she heard the door open. "This is your room, right?"

"Yes," Itachi said quietly. He had already decided, she needed him now, and he wasn't going to let his cowardice stop him this time. Whatever his fears about facing her, he would have to overcome them. He held up the bowl in his hands and tried to keep his mind on the present. "I- I am supposed to feed you," he explained.

"Good," Temari said. "I was wondering if anyone would. And I want to talk to you..." She looked up at the young man standing above her. Except for the eyes, she decided there was nothing remarkable about him, especially compared to his companions, but in general, as well. Oh, he may have been handsomer than some, but he was not extraordinarily so, not by her standards. He was thin and pale, probably not much taller than Temari herself, certainly shorter than Kankuro. His mouth seemed set into one serious expression, worry wrinkles etched his face. His eyes had the faraway, detached look of a perpetual dreamer. Really, he looked no different from any other young man on the street. Temari wondered why he was the one her mind had latched onto; perhaps just because he was so normal. Or was it his name? "Itachi..." No, nothing remarkable about it.

Itachi almost dropped the bowl. She had said his name. She knew his name. He wanted to beg her to say it again, so he could hear it, hear how perfect those few syllables sounded, coming from her. It suddenly wasn't just some word that referred to him; not when she said it.

Temari was not so concerned with the romance of the moment. Her mind was occupied with the strictly practical; it usually was. She could smell the food he was holding; it appeared to be rice. And rice was not famous for being an aromatic food, which said something about how hungry she was. Its presence was driving her nuts. She took a deep breath and swallowed a lump in her throat that she suspected was pride. "I know this is awkward, but I can't move, so you're going to have to spoon-feed me." She looked pointedly at the wall, avoiding eye-contact, letting him know that she was as embarrassed about the situation as he no-doubt was, and the best thing was to get it over with quickly. "I know, I don't like it, either, and I'm sorry this has to be such a hassle for-,"

A firm clunk interrupted her as Itachi set his bowl down on the desk, next to the old tuna sandwich, and propped her up against the headrest of the bed, a good deal more gently than Deidara had.

"It is not a problem," he said, reaching for the bowl once more and pushing some rice onto the spoon.

His hands were shaking. Oh, she might not have noticed. The movement was very slight, but he knew his body perfectly, and he was always aware of any unauthorized activity. She was just so strong. To remain calm in the face of her own helplessness, to not show any fear or weakness, to treat him as an equal rather than a captor. Could she be any more amazing? Could he be any more lucky to be able to stand in the same room with her and hear her talk (and say his name)?

Temari tried not to betray her impatience as he spooned the food into her mouth, taking his sweet time, of course. She may have to depend on him for sustenance, but she would not (repeat, not) give him the satisfaction of begging.

"You..." Itachi struggled (successfully, of course) to keep his face impassive. "Wanted to talk?"

Temari nodded and tried to keep her eyes away from the spoon hovering so close by. "About last night..." But she couldn't remember what she wanted to say, or even why she had wanted to talk about it with him.

She was afraid, also, that he would make her keep talking, but the spoon pushed against her lips like a good eating utensil.

"I meant what I said," Itachi said stiffly. "I will protect you."

"I can protect myself," she said, more as a gut reaction than anything else.

"Yes, but," How to explain to her? Could she understand how badly he needed to do something for her, and this was all he had to offer? "It will not hurt to have me as an ally."

"That depends on the cost," she said. "I won't be in your debt."

"There will be no debt," Itachi hastened to explain. The very notion was insulting, that he would insist on some repayment, that he would take advantage of her weakened position to bind her to him. "I will take it upon myself to protect you; you did not ask it of me, you will owe me nothing in exchange."

"Then why would you do it?" Temari asked.

Itachi took a deep breath. He wasn't sure he could explain it to her; just because he was in love did not mean that she was or ever would be. But that did not mean that he should lie to her, either. "I think, Mystery Girl, that we have many similarities, and I would enjoy the opportunity to meet somebody similar to myself."

Temari sized up this offer in her head. There was something peculiar about this man. She wouldn't put it past him to look out for someone because of their "similarities." The idea that they were similar was certainly interesting, if a little crazy. Temari grimaced as she swallowed another spoonful of rice. He was right, though; it would not hurt to have someone looking out for her when she was this weak.

"All right," she said. "If you want to help me out, I won't stop you."

Itachi wanted to smile and thank her and let her know how happy this made him, but the part of his brain that he normally dedicated to social functions told him not to blow it now. Being quiet and emotionless had worked pretty well so far in his life, so he kept feeding her without further comment.

"That's the last of it," he reported a few minutes later. "Are you still hungry? I think there was some leftover pizza in the fridge."

"No... this is fine for now," she said. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." He put the bowl back on the desk, next to the tuna sandwich (he really needed to take that thing to the kitchen), and then realized that he had nowhere to go. "This is my bed," he said after a moment.

"Oh..." He thought she might have blushed, but it was hard to tell under the sunburn. "Well, I guess you'll be wanting to sleep here..."

"If that's all right with you."

She shrugged a little. "It's your bed."

"Right." This was acceptable. It would be just like last night; he would put on some pajamas, turn off the light, and try to go to sleep. That was all. No big deal.

Temari tried to wiggle herself into a more comfortable position for sleeping. Once she was feeling better, she would never take the ability to move for granted again. In the meantime, she needed sleep. She also was not eager to watch Itachi strip, and that seemed to be where he was headed. If her memories were correct (and so far they seemed to be), she had seen more than enough the night before.

Itachi glanced between the boxers in his hands and the young woman on his bed. She didn't seem to be watching, but then, if she happened to open her eyes... no need to traumatize her any more than he already had. Itachi slipped into the hall to change.

He was trying to pull his pants on when Kisame walked by with a toothbrush in his hand. Itachi stopped cold when he saw him, one leg up in the air, half-way into a pant leg. Kisame paused for a moment to consider this pose.

"We don't want to see it any more than she does, you know," he said, continuing his walk down the hall.

The light behind Temari's eyelids went black, and a moment later she felt Itachi's weight on the mattress next to her.

"Are you comfortable?"

"Could you move one of these pillows?" she asked. "My neck's starting to cramp a little."

The pillows adjusted themselves, and for a moment, everything was completely silent.

Itachi lay on his back, close to the edge of the bed, and tried to take up as little room as possible. His bed was just large enough for the two of them, but he wanted her to be as comfortable as possible, and that meant not getting in her way while she slept.

Temari tried to sleep, but, in the dark, when she couldn't even hear Itachi breathing next to her, her thoughts began to wander back to her home, to Gaara and Kankuro, to everything she had learned that day. She had never been afraid of the dark; she knew firsthand that evil didn't care if the sun was out or not. But, combined with her thoughts tonight, it seemed more oppressive than usual; or maybe it was just how vulnerable she felt, anyway.

"Itachi?" she asked after a moment.

"Yes?" His voice was mellow and soft, and it reminded her of the familiar hiss of a cooking fire.

"Do you mind..." She would never ask this, not of an enemy, not of anyone, but she sensed that the rules changed now that it was dark, just as they had changed the night before. Something had happened that made this acceptable. "Do you mind... holding me... like you did last night?"

"Of course not," the cooking-fire voice whispered back, and an arm wrapped around her, just like the night before. It was comforting, and, most importantly, it stopped her from thinking. For a moment, there was no Kankuro, no Gaara, no Shukaku, no Deidara or Kisame or Sasori, not even a Temari or an Itachi. Just that arm and that voice, two warm bodies together in the dark. She could hear his breathing now that he was closer, but he didn't feel human necessarily, just alive and reassuring.

"Deidara combed out my hair," she said absently, the kind of babble she would use to talk to a pet. (Not that she knew from any personal experience; animals were afraid of Gaara, so they had never kept any growing up.) "I think the effort was a little wasted when the rest of me looks like a boiled lobster with a skin condition, but it's nice to be able to run my fingers through it. Or," she laughed a little, "if I could move my arms, it would be."

Fingers wove through her hair as soon as she said it. "It is very soft now," Itachi agreed. For some reason, his voice didn't break the spell, and she kept talking.

"Yes... I'm not used to it... I never comb it out, myself. I'm not sure that I like it this way. I might tangle it up again so that it sticks out more. What do you think?"

"Whatever you think looks best will suit you best," Itachi said diplomatically, keeping his fingers wrapped in her hair and trying not to dwell on how insanely, preposterously lucky he was, for fear of jinxing himself.

"Maybe I can keep it combed and still put it up..." she mused lazily. Her thoughts were beginning to drift, and it even seemed possible that she would fall asleep peacefully. "I should ask Deidara... he seems to know about this stuff."


"... It sounds silly, but I've always sort-of wanted someone to play with my hair."

Itachi immediately twirled some of her hair around his finger.

"I've never been very girly... My mother died when I was very young, and I don't have any aunts or anything like that, so I kind of had to be a tomboy. And I'm glad that I was raised like that... I don't want to be one of those sugary little girls who wear pink and play with baby dolls and giggle over boys. I mean, now I'm glad, but... when I was little, it was different. The other girls would get dressed up for festivals and stuff, and their mothers would put up their hair and get them all dolled up, and they'd look so pretty... I wanted to be like them so badly... Nobody ever put much effort into how I looked. I guess it's a pathetic thing to be jealous over, but I was a pathetic little kid."

Itachi's mind flashed to the picture of her as a child, the image that he had cherished for so long. She had not been pathetic, not at all. Blasphemy, that's what that was, to call a child with such strong eyes pathetic. "No," he managed, pulling some of her hair closer to his nose so he could smell it. (It smelled like Deidara, which was disappointing.) "That's not pathetic at all."

"You're just trying to make me feel better," she mumbled. "What's with you guys and being nice? It's freaking me out."

"I'm sorry. Do you want me to be more cruel?"

There was a short pause, then she shifted a little bit, getting about half of a centimeter closer to him. "No... not you. I'll just have to get over it. Thank you for letting me babble to you," her voice was getting foggy now. "It's been... a long time... since I've thought about this stuff."

She gave one last tiny sigh, and then her breathing grew deeper and more rhythmical; she was asleep.

"Thank you for talking to me," Itachi whispered, a little too late. His mind was struggling to cope with how highly honored he was to hear this little confession. He knew a thing or two about the Shinobi mentality and he knew how difficult it was to confide something so private in another person. She was accepting his help, she was telling him about her childhood insecurities, she was letting him play with her hair, she was saying his name. This miraculous vision of a human being was sleeping more-or-less in his arms.

Itachi's brain, which had not had a task more challenging than processing good-natured teasing from Kisame, went into sensory overload and shut down everything except for a single phrase, which repeated until Itachi drifted to sleep and gave his poor overtaxed mind a rest.

She is perfect and she is right here and I am holding her. She is perfect and I am holding her. She is perfect and I am holding her, perfect and I am holding her...

A/N: This story is very experimental for me (I've never written anything serious and longer than a chapter before), so any comments or suggestions are welcome. Comedy is fairly easy for me, but anything serious and I feel like I screw it up royal, and I'd like to improve.