in vino veritas
Tenten wasn't expecting to see Uchiha Sasuke there.
Strangely enough, she saw him before he saw her, despite his advantage of Sharingan. Then again, she'd been already been sitting in this dim-lit dive of a bar, her eyes long since accustomed to the faint illumination, when he came in, standing all bright and conspicuous in the well-lit entrance while the rest of the bar should have been dark to his daylight-fresh eyes – a deliberate effect designed by the bar's owners, whose patrons liked plenty of warning should unexpected acquaintances turn up. Of course, who knew how effective that was with an Uchiha…
She forced herself to look casually back down at the vodka shooter she was nursing – a quick movement of her head would have been noticeable – and tried to suppress her chakra. She was good at that, better than Lee and Neji were, so that Gai usually sent her in when they needed to be low-profile. Still, this was Uchiha Sasuke, with his red-spinning eyes that could see chakra if he wanted, and suddenly her Konoha hitai-ate felt very heavy on her brow.
And sure enough, when the guy next to her lumbered away (with a suspiciously blank look in his eyes) Sasuke slipped smoothly onto the vacated barstool, dark – non-Sharingan, yet - eyes glancing at her carelessly. The kunoichi tensed; but he only raised his hand and called for a tankard of ale. Tenten took a swig of her own drink, half for the alcohol and half to show that she could, even with one of her village's most infamous missing-nin sitting beside her.
Sasuke didn't speak until his ale had slid down the bar into his hands, and he had taken a healthy draught of the pale liquid. "What dost thou do here?" he asked her softly, still staring into his ale.
Tenten jumped a little – not so much at the question but at the fact that he had asked it in Yong, the language of her parents' homeland – and one fairly unknown here in the western nations. "Where didst THOU learn to speak?" she demanded instead. "And how didst ye know that I would?"
"I travel in Orochimaru's service," Sasuke said carelessly, and Tenten noted the lack of honorific – either Japanese or Yong – attached to the name. "I remembered thee from the exam of Chuunins. When the Chuunin at the doors to the first exam struck thee, a curse fell from thine lips; I realized it was of the tongue, upon a later date when I heard it spoken by another." Now he glanced at her. "I have answered thy question; now answer mine."
There was a silence, before Tenten picked up her shot-glass and finished off her drink. "A mission," Tenten said finally. "It touches not upon thee."
Sasuke actually looked a little surprised at that, eyes widening a fraction before narrowing again in suspicion. "Ye will not fight me? There shall be no attempt to force me back to the Village, a return triumphant?"
Tenten shrugged, signalled to the bartender for another shooter, and spoke without looking Sasuke in the eye. "If there is a wish in thee to cross blades, I will oblige thee. Thou art the stronger," she said flatly, the assessment as hard and clear-edged as one of her swords, "but I will not be an easy victory. It is not inconceivable that I should win. In either outcome, I will, most likely, be grievously injured, and unable to complete my assigned mission. This does not appeal to me."
Sasuke was still looking at her, eyes a little less suspicious and a little amused at her declaration of possible victory. Then he looked again, at the long lean form and the callused hands, at the saw-edged dagger he could see just peeking out of a wrist-mounted sheath, and he wondered. "And so, ye prize your mission more than this chance to garner glory in the eyes of Konoha?"
"YE are not MY mission," Tenten replied coldly, catching her new shot-glass as it slid towards her. "And I will, in all probability, NOT be able to bring you back to Konoha. I should prefer to add a notation for an 'A-class completed' rather than an 'Engaged but could not subdue' to my records."
"They desire me still," Sasuke said, goading her. It was stupid, but – maybe it was the ale – he wanted to see what he could make this atypical Konoha kunoichi say. "Konoha ANBU daily scour the lands for any notice of me. My team-mates agitate for the chance to search me out. They would welcome any news ye could take them of me – they would appreciate any…efforts made on their behalf."
"That is not my concern," Tenten said dismissively. "Their appreciation would be of little merit when I apply for ANBU - unlike an impressive missions-record. If my mission was to hunt you, then I would use any information I had on you for that purpose. As it stands, however…" She shrugged and took a sip of her shooter.
Sasuke stared at her, measuring her once again. This was not someone in Sakura's mold, or Naruto's, someone who felt and lived with fire and passion. This was someone who saw reality more than dreams; someone who thought of themselves as individuals, rather than as parts of a greater whole, and who contemplated their survival in those terms. This was someone who would withhold information for their own possible future use, calculating before giving.
This was someone he could understand.
"I see," he said, finally, sipping at his ale. "So shall we agree – I will not harm thee, and ye will not hunt me?" he nonchalantly proposed. "I do not care for the inconvenience of having to defeat a Konoha kunoichi."
Tenten visibly bristled, but calmed herself after a few deep breaths. "Done and done, by the Eight Immortals," she said, invoking a formal vow structure in Yong. She turned to face him for the first time, offering her hand.
Sasuke clasped it in his, echoing her words – he had learned enough about the Yong to recognize vows – to seal the agreement. They stared at each other over their clasped hands, understanding that something deep and secret and potentially very dangerous – if either of their villages discovered it – now existed between them.
Then Tenten took her hand back, and said indifferently, Thy accent is very good. There is in it the exact tone of a sheep-herder from the mud huts of the south."
As much to his surprise as to hers, Sasuke barked a short laugh at the offhand insult. "My thanks to thee, o noble lady. And this lowly sheep-herder might venture to assume that the Heaven-born," - raising his eyebrows over the pun on her name - "has learnt her speech from the pure-spoken words of the Imperial Court?"
Tenten, who knew very well that she spoke – as she had been taught – with the slight burr of the northern mountains, raised her shot-glass to him in a slight toast, acknowledging the hit.
They spoke lightly over a few more drinks, surprising each other and themselves by their ability to hold an interesting conversation. When the windows of the bar showed it was no longer afternoon, but full dark of the night – the time when shinobi best liked to travel – they parted with actual regret.
Sasuke left first, by previous agreement, laying a coin down to cover his tab. Before he left, he paused, bent low, and whispered into her ear, "Orochimaru has sent teams to the valleys west and north of here, knowing that those lie through Konoha's trade-routes. They have orders to engage any shinobi they see." Then he left.
Tenten finished her drink thoughtfully, laid down her own payment, then departed for the east.
This was my first attempt at writing a darker sort of Tenten - reasoning that, after all, ambition is the clearest thing we know about her. I'm still trying to get a handle on a new style and all that, so please comment and tell me what you think was off or cool or whatever with this, or any suggestions - I still haven't got the latter half of this written.
Edit: Changed a few lines here and there. Thanks to tao-empress for the feedback!