If I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
If I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat

Temari was crying.

This was a curious thing to Shikamaru. She didn't cry much. No, Shikamaru was the crybaby, not her. She didn't feel enough to cry. At least not that much. Only sometimes. Only when it hurt the most.

Which said a lot about the situation she was in now.

She wasn't sobbing. She wasn't weeping. But tears spilled out of her eyes nonetheless and ran down her face, off her cheeks in a stream and dripping onto the bed sheets beneath her where she lay on her back. Both her arms were held spread out to the side. She stared at the ceiling. Drenched in blood.

Shikamaru watched her from the corner of the room, a sickening feeling still lingering in his gut. He hated seeing her like this. More than anything, this was the worst thing he'd done to her, and he'd done so much…

There she lay on the bed in the middle of the room, just gazing up, not blinking, expression blank as ever. Shikamaru could still remember the light in those eyes, gone now. Her arms lying out to her sides were each hanging halfway off the bed, palms up. And they were slit from the inner-elbow to the tips of her palms.

Under each of her arms were bowls. Temari's blood was dripping steadily into them. At first Shikamaru had winced at the disturbing dripping noise that this had created, but now, after an hour of this, he was used to it. The bowls were only half-way full. They were black ceramic bowls, with charms and spells engraved into the sides of them. The blood, dark and black and eerie, swirled around inside of them, gleaming from the lights.

And on the floor surrounding the bed Temari lay on was a gigantic charm drawn in blood, the strange star design in a circle, tiny details surrounding it. Shikamaru gazed at it. Temari could not escape that circle. Not as long as she was a demon.

The door to the small bedroom they were in suddenly opened, and Shikamaru got to his feet in a flash to greet the silver-haired man that entered.

"Kakashi," Shikamaru walked over briskly as Kakashi closed the door behind himself and faced Shikamaru. "You got it?"

Kakashi nodded. "Took me about an hour, sorry. But it's all here." He held up a large jug of a thick, red liquid; blood.

Shikamaru nodded slowly, staring at it and throwing the disgust back down his throat. "Great. Where did it come from?"

"I don't think you should ask that question," Kakashi said with a grim smile, walking over to the corner Shikamaru had been sitting in before and setting down the jug. He straightened up and gave Shikamaru a dark look:

"Human blood isn't very easy to come by."

Shikamaru nodded sourly, and Kakashi cracked his knuckles, turning to look at Temari. "Still not moving, huh?"

"How much longer?" Shikamaru asked quietly, staring at Temari as well. She didn't seem to notice he was talking. Nothing changed in her face, not a muscle moved. He couldn't even see her chest rising. Of course she never needed to breathe, she was a demon. But he wanted to see it. He wanted to hear it…

"A couple more hours," Kakashi said, crossing his arms thoughtfully as he observed the blonde. "Maybe longer."

Shikamaru groaned under his breath. "I don't like this. It's like she's not even in there."

"That'll happen," Kakashi said. "Just give her time. It takes a while to drain all of the demon blood out of a person. I've only done it once myself."

"Is it really that painful?"

"It's the most painful thing she's ever felt, that's for sure." Shikamaru grit his teeth and exhaled shakily, and Kakashi sighed. "You knew what you were getting yourself into," he reminded Shikamaru. "When you called me down here you sounded so damn sure of yourself. Don't get shaky on me now, boy."

"It just pisses me off, seeing her like that," Shikamaru hissed, shaking his head. He slid down the wall next to Kakashi and drew his knees up, resting his hands on them. He watched the motionless woman with grief. "I knew that you've done this before, that's why I called you down here. And don't get me wrong, I'm glad you came, especially so quickly at such short notice. And I trust you. But I still don't understand…How exactly does this shit work?"

Kakashi glanced at Shikamaru. "Well, she still has human blood in her. But not enough. So while we drain the demon blood out of her, we have to also give her enough human blood to keep her alive."

"So we have to make her drink it," Shikamaru gathered.

"Straight up."

Shikamaru repressed a shudder. "This is sick," he grumbled, running a hand through his hair. "If she doesn't even react when we talk to her, how're we gonna make her drink fucking blood?"

Kakashi shrugged. "Don't ask me kid. Last guy I did this to we made 'im guzzle the entire thing down, and he almost choked to death."

Shikamaru made a frustrated, strangled sound, and Kakashi shook his head. "Cool it. This is for the better, ya know. And I have experience. I know what I'm doin'."

"I hope she'll be alright…" Shikamaru murmured.


Neji pulled his wet hair from his face. The rain pounded down on him as he kneeled in the mud of the secluded crossroads of Crooks and Meijer in Michigan. Thunder rumbled in the distance, as thick, dark storm clouds rolled through the sky viciously, tumbling over each other. The Impala sat off to the side of one of the roads, and other than that Neji was only surrounded by miles and miles of empty, rolling fields of corn and wheat.

"Pull it together," Neji hissed to himself under his breath, barely able to hear himself through the crashing downpour. He was holding a knife over his arm, the sleeve rolled up to his elbow to expose his pale flesh. Without hesitation, he pressed the blade into his skin, breaking it so blood could pour out. He didn't even flinch, instead he immediately coated the tip of one of his fingers in his blood, and began to draw on a black slate he was holding onto the ground. It had a spell engraved into it, and Neji was drawing a charm on the bottom.

Next to his right knee was a small black bag. When he finished drawing the charm, he took it and set it in the center of his new creation, not bothering to cover his fresh wound while he was at it. Then he proceeded to take a lighter from his pocket.

He closed his eyes, gathering his thoughts. This had to work. This was all he had. This had to work.

His eyes snapped open, and he narrowed them with determination. He lit a fire, and held it to the bag.

Automatically, despite the rain, the bag was illuminated in a white-hot glow. Neji darted backwards so as not to catch any of the sparks, and watched, slowly getting to his feet, as the bag hissed and smoked.

For a while, nothing happened. The only sounds Neji could hear were the steady beat of the rain, the distant grumbling of thunder, and the flickering of the fire.

Then, there was a sound he couldn't mistake.

A rustling and churning split the white noise around him. Neji's eyes widened as the smoke rising from the burning bag became stronger. It condensed and grew larger, and before Neji's gaze it slowly turned into the shape of a dragon.

The shape of the dragon.

Tenten's demon.

Neji felt a grin of triumph come to his face as he faced the black, swirling creature, its wings opening, spreading wide and threatening.

"Nice to see you again."

e Q u I l I b R I U m


Shikamaru buried his head further into his arms.


But her screams could still be heard, no matter how he clenched his ears shut or squeezed his eyelids together.

"DON'T! NO MORE! DON'T DO IT! DON'T—Ahh…S-Stop…No, please…"

The gagging, choking, sobbing, yelling…Her voice was drawn in agony and terror. She was shrieking, weeping, begging and moaning. It was the worst thing he'd ever heard. So much pain and fear. And then she'd cough and splutter as Kakashi fed her more and more blood, and she lost more and more sanity…

"Damn it…" Shikamaru whispered.

"Shikamaru, for shit's sake help me!"

Shikamaru peered over his knees, his face contorted with guilt. He didn't want to, but he could see Kakashi holding a struggling Temari. Her eyes were closed, but tears flooded out of them. Blood covered her face, as Kakashi attempted to pour more of it down her throat while she squirmed and screamed.

"I can't do it…" Shikamaru whispered, staring. "God…She's hurting, I just…I can't…" He shook his head helplessly and hid his face once more, trying to distract himself from the painful shrieks.

Kakashi groaned in exasperation and continued, only from what Shikamaru could hear.

"Mom…Mom…Please…Help me…Oh god…Help me…Someone help me…Shikamaru…"

He froze.

"Shikamaru…Help me…Make it stop…Please make it stop…Shikamaru, please…I need you, Shikamaru…"

His heart hurt. He didn't know it could hurt this much. It ached. His eyes were huge. He couldn't move, he felt numb. And he was so, so angry at himself, he could just…

"Oh for god's sake."

Shikamaru blinked and looked up reluctantly. Kakashi stared at Shikamaru. "Kid, you should just get the hell out of dodge."

"Wh…N…No…" Shikamaru mumbled, still not quite able to find his bearings.

"Shikamaru, you're not gonna be able to function while you're watching this," Kakashi insisted, holding Temari up and rubbing her arm as reassuringly as he could while she wept into his shoulder. "You tried hugging her, that didn't work, you tried talking to her and comforting her, that didn't work, and now you're trying to cower in a corner. Well that's not gonna help anything, and let me tell you it isn't going to any time soon." Shikamaru looked away, trying to control his breathing. "I'm sorry," Kakashi continued, "but she's not here right now. She can't here you."

"Then tell me what to do!" Shikamaru yelled, twisting around to face Kakashi furiously. "I can't just let her keep on like that. It's killing her!"

"No, it's not. It's killing you," Kakashi said sternly. Shikamaru stared at him, openmouthed and angry, but the realization slowly settled into him and he closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands.

"Leave," he heard Kakashi say. "It'll be better for you. Trust me."

"But Temari…"

"I'll stay with her. I'll make sure everything gets done the way it's supposed to, promise." Shikamaru looked up at Kakashi. "Get out of here," he insisted. "I'll take care of her."


It was just the same as it had been last time.

Neji was fifteen miles south in the little town of Clawson, Michigan. The city where he'd first met Tenten. And nothing had changed.

It was drenched in rain, and dark and empty. But it was the same.

Neji parked the Impala in front of the house on Oakland street. The tiny little flat. No lights on. The grass was overgrown. Newspapers were piled up on the porch. Weeds tangled around the foundation.

Tenten's house. They hadn't been there in so long. He smiled a bit through his heavy depression, remembering the first time he'd met her. He'd lied to her, and she saw right through it so easily. Then he saved her life, there in her kitchen. Asked her to join them. That was when she fell in love with him, he knew now. When he looked into her eyes, told her he didn't want her to kill herself, told her to do what he said. He'd given her something only her mother had before.

He jolted when he felt a terrible pain twang his heart, and he groaned and clutched his chest. He bent his head down so his forehead could touch the steering wheel and allowed the grief to wash over him. "Damn it…" he whispered, as the rain outside tapped lightly against the windshield. "Tenten…"

He smiled though, allowing a single tear to fall from his face. It hurt so bad. But it meant so much. "Love is really painful…" he murmured, laughing under his breath.

And with that, he grabbed the bag from the seat next to him, and exited the car. Taking care to be discreet, he ran through the rain up to the tiny porch. He tested the door; it was unlocked. He narrowed his eyes; Ami had been here.

He cracked the door open. The dim, grey-blue light from outside swept into the dust of the home immediately, and showed to Neji that it was completely empty. So he walked inside, and closed the door.

He pulled the blinds on the window, letting the light flood in, and sighed, looking around the miniature living room. He could recall the loveseat, the Chinese ornaments, the mats on the floor and the coffee table. All were gone now, leaving behind only dust and cheap wooden floors. Neji made his way through the room, and into the kitchen. This room, too, was empty. He lit a flashlight from his pocket and flashed it around, just to make sure. Nothing was there. The house was eerily silent, only creaking every so often with the wind.

Setting the flashlight on the top of one of the bare counters to light the room, Neji then got to work. He pulled out first, very gingerly, something large and round, about the size of a basketball. It was wrapped in a thick cotton cloth, and when Neji removed it, it was exposed to be a glass ball. Inside it was swirling around black smoke. It billowed and lashed against the sides of the glass, as if trying to escape. And it was.

Neji stared at it. "Sorry," he said to the demon. "I know you probably like being free. But I need to do this. You liked Tenten, didn't you? I mean, everyone did." Neji sighed, watching the glass ball. "I'm sure you'll be fine."

Neji set the ball on the counter, and removed the rest of his supplies. The black slate with the spell and charm. A long, thin white bone. And, lastly, an empty Tic-Tac's container.

Neji held this object fondly in his hands as he set the slate on the counter next to the ball. The last thing Tenten had eaten. The last thing she'd touched…

Pushing the thoughts out of his head, Neji picked up the bone and rubbed it against the container. "Let's make this rabbit's death mean something," he muttered to himself as he finished with the Tic-Tacs container. He put it down on the slate, pulled out his lighter and held it to the tip of the bone, and finally, lit it.

The bone caught fire instantly. Neji frowned and held it up. He knew the drill. He'd read it about fifty times by now, just to be sure he was doing this correctly. Before the entire bone began to disintegrate, he had to see if the flame was white, or orange. If it was orange, then the spirit he was looking for wasn't there. If it was white…

Neji concentrated. This wasn't easy to do. The flame kept switching colors, back and forth, back and forth. He'd read that sometimes it took a while to find the spirit. But it was just so frustrating…

"Come on…" he whispered. The tip of the bone was turning to ash and crumbling to the floor as the flame inched further and further down the bone. Orange, white, orange, white…

Neji grit his teeth. This had to work. Tenten couldn't be anywhere else, but he had to make sure. There was no other way of knowing. There were no other leads.

"Come on, come on, come on…" Neji groaned. His eyes followed the flame. His nose was inches away from it. He didn't blink.

And then, the color stayed.

Neji gazed at it. Waited a few seconds to make sure. No, this was solitary. This was certain.

This was real…

Neji's eyes widened.

equilibrium øøø

Shikamaru didn't consider himself weak. But he had never before been so pissed at himself for running away from something.

But he'd had time to think about it as he took Kakashi's advice and went out into the sprinkling rain outside of the abandoned house to pull himself together, and he'd decided that it didn't matter right now. He had to stop thinking about himself when Temari was in this mess.

Because it was always about her, wasn't it?

Shikamaru smirked exasperatedly to himself as he climbed the stairs up to the bedroom in the house, tossing aside his soggy, used cigarette. He knew the worst that could happen. He could mess up, get her killed. But that was just the risk he'd had to deal with since he'd first met her, since she'd first slapped him in the face.

He was willing to take that risk if it would make her happy, because she'd already taken that risk so many times…

He was a crybaby. She was right. And he knew that she could understand it too; he was her crybaby. She was the one he wanted to cry into right now. She was the one he wanted to hold him. And there were no excuses for not doing that.

Shikamaru narrowed his eyes. She wasn't escaping him. Not today. Not ever.

He reached the bedroom, and opened the door.

He froze.

Kakashi lay on the ground just in front of the door in a bloody heap. He was curled around himself, but not moving, and Shikamaru knew that he had been in immense pain from the way his fingers were bent and the way his face was tucked into his chest.

For a second a cold fear crept up Shikamaru's back, but then he saw Kakashi's back rise and fall gently, and warm relief spread over him; he was still alive. Just unconscious. And judging by the way the blood only came from his head, he only had a broken skull, which wasn't fatal unless too much blood was coming out, and there wasn't.

And so his gaze darted to Temari.

He cursed. She wasn't on the bed anymore; she was lying slumped over at the edge of the circle on the ground. Her hands were covered in blood.

"Temari…" Shikamaru whispered. He jumped over Kakashi and ran forwards, kneeling down in front of her and hoisting her up. Her eyes were closed, and she was limp in his arms. He frowned and brushed her hair from her face. "Temari, hey…"

He pressed his fingers to her neck. No pulse.

Shikamaru closed his eyes, dread filling his chest. "Come on, hold on," he hissed, hands tightening on her shoulders as he opened his eyes again.

She was beautiful, he realized, even covered in blood. Her hair was soft, her pink lips parted only slightly. He was reminded for the second time of the day he first saw her asleep.

The only thing missing was the teal-blue of her eyes.

His gaze was caught by her lips. He wondered for the hundredth time how one woman could be so gorgeous. How one woman could drive him so crazy. How one woman could make him go so far that right now, he'd kill himself to see those eyes one more time.

He couldn't tell what he was thinking when he leaned forward to kiss her. His mind was too clouded. But her lips felt nice pressed to his, they felt right. And her arms working around his neck, even nicer…


His eyes snapped open, and he parted from her, staring, waiting hopefully.

Her eyes fluttered open.

Shikamaru gave a relieved laugh, grinning happily. "Wow…" he whispered as she stared at him, seeming confused. "Talk about sleeping beauty…"

Temari blinked. "Wh…what…? Wait, am I…?"

Shikamaru scanned her over as she clumsily hoisted herself to her knees. She seemed…different. She was rosier. Her skin glowed more, she was less pale.

He slowly raised his fingers to her neck. She twitched in response but allowed the contact. He pressed them there and held them. And soon enough, a pounding beat could be felt beneath her skin; Temari's heartbeat. He felt his own pulse race to catch up to hers, and they both felt the synchronized rhythm together, in awe.

"Temari…" Shikamaru gasped. "You're…"

Temari opened her mouth wordlessly. Then suddenly Shikamaru heard a little squeal he never would have guessed would come out of her mouth as she slammed them both into an excited hug.

He laughed though, holding her close as she cried, voice muffled by his jacket, "It fucking worked!"

"Yeah, it did," he said giddily. "You're human." He ran a hand up and down her back, the other pulling her tight against him. The relief he felt could not be compared to anything else. He felt happy; like the world's problems had been solved. He couldn't wipe that stupid grin off his face.

"I can't believe it!" Temari continued to squeal. "I can smell!"

She suddenly lifted her head, then pressed her face into Shikamaru's neck. He stiffened in surprise as she inhaled deeply. "You smell…" she murmured.

"…Like smoke?" he guessed uncertainly, a small playful smile on his lips.

"No." He felt her lips form a smile of their own against his neck. "I don't know what you smell like. But I like it."

He rolled his eyes. "It's probably smoke. And I don't recommend it. That, or sniffing me like a dog."

"Shut up, you piece of shit," Temari snapped haughtily. "Let me celebrate. You're the first thing I get to smell." She paused. "And see…And feel…And…"

He watched the top of her head, then said softly, "Wonder how I taste…"

Temari looked up at him, curiosity in her gaze, but not for the taste. For the meaning hidden in his words. Their eyes met, but then she kissed him, and he closed his again. Their lips moved against each other's slowly as she tightened her arms around his neck, like she'd never let him go. His hand pressed into the small of her back, the other settling into her hair on the back of her head, pulling her lips closer to his.

It was a short and clean kiss, but so passionate that Temari was close to being breathless when she parted. Their hearts were pounding together in a syncopated pulse as she whispered, "Nice…You taste nice…"

He smiled at her fondly, then blinked. "Oh!"

"…Huh?" She watched as he grinned down at her. "That reminds me. How would you like to taste chocolate for the first time?"

Temari beamed. "Yes!"

He smiled, then frowned. "Uh, first we should wake him up…"

A silence, then…

"Oh my god I killed Kakashi!"

"No, haha, no, you didn't…But if only you had…"

"I'm…awake…you asshole…"

"…Oh. Good."


Every time he closed his eyes he could hear Tenten's voice.

Neji had been deciding for a while whether he should ignore her, or listen for her. He didn't know what was better for him. He'd actually been trying to decide that when she was still alive. Since he'd first met her, he wanted to know how to get the best out of her.

"I'm sorry…" he whispered for the millionth time to the glass ball he held in front of himself. The demon inside was still struggling, and Neji's gaze did not move from it. But Neji wasn't talking to the demon. "You're almost smarter than Shikamaru, " he continued sadly. "Everything you ever said to me was right. You've only ever had my back. And I never thanked you for that." He let out a shuddering breath. "So I'm sorry," he murmured. "I'm sorry I didn't listen to you. I'm sorry I never told you how I felt."

Neji didn't know if she could hear him. Maybe she could. He didn't know how souls really worked. But he didn't care either way. He just wanted to say it. At least to something, even if it was just to a demon and the air.

"I love you Tenten," he said softly. "If this doesn't work, then it won't matter. I'll kill myself anyways, I've already made up my mind."

His chest rose and fell sharply as he gathered his courage to him. The knife he held in one of his hands shook, while the ball he held in the other flashed with the demon's boiling temper. He steadied his position, and felt the warmth of serenity flow over him.

"I'll see you soon either way," he finished with a sad smile.

And he thrust the knife forward into the ball.

The glass shattered and exploded downwards into the floor, and immediately the black smoke flew out of it. Neji threw himself backwards out of its way as it swept through the air and cascaded out of the kitchen. Neji stared after it, eyes huge.

It was silent. Neji slowly straightened up from the counter he'd been leaning against and leaned over so he could see out the door into the darkness of the living room. He grabbed the flashlight and beamed it in; nothing. The room was as bare as it had been before.

"…Did it work…?" he muttered to himself, confused. He didn't know what was supposed to happen next. He took a step outside of the kitchen and looked around.

And that's when he heard it; a small rustling sound over his shoulder.

Neji whipped around, waving the flashlight in front of him sharply. There was nothing there. But he could see the way into the secluded hallway that led to the two bedrooms. He frowned and began to walk down the hallway, trying to ignore the spider climbing one of the walls on a string of dust. He found one of the doors and opened it.

It opened into Tenten's old room. This too was empty. But Neji felt a small smile come to his face as he remembered her bed, and Tenten lying on it on her stomach eating a lollipop, reading a novel. She was always so warm and inviting. So friendly. So refreshing from a life of death and horror that he'd lived.

He sighed, seeing it clear, and turned around.

And then he froze in shock. Because as he turned, he glimpsed something. It was only for a second, but around the corner at the end of the hallway he could see something black fluttering, and disappearing as it flew off out of sight.

Neji immediately gave chase. His adrenaline pounded with excitement and nerves. This had to be her. It had to be.

He stumbled out into the living room. Nothing was there. He hissed under his breath and twisted around. There was a noise coming from the kitchen. He fisted the flashlight intensely and sprinted into the kitchen.

But he did not get far.

As soon as he entered the kitchen, he skidded to a halt in the doorway.

His mouth fell open. He couldn't move. He almost dropped the flashlight.

And his heart rose in his chest like a balloon.

Standing in the middle of the kitchen, she whipped around to face him. She was donned only in a black dress, which twirled with her long, brown hair, which was down, tumbling around her shoulders. Her eyes were wide with shock, as her lips, pink and soft, formed a quiet name: "Neji?"



"I still don't know why you don't want chocolate," Shikamaru muttered. "It's supposed to be something everyone likes."

"I told you," Temari said exasperatedly. She sat on one of the bar stools in the kitchen, Shikamaru on the other side of the counter. "I want my first food to be a surprise. I don't want to be biased."

"It's not your first food, you've eaten before." Shikamaru reminded her. "Besides, are you serious? You think you're gonna be prejudice…against food?"

"Yeah, kinda."

Shikamaru sighed. After cleaning Kakashi up and letting him sleep upstairs in an empty bedroom, Temari took a shower to clean off all the blood while Shikamaru waited for her in the kitchen. According to Kakashi, Temari lost control when the last of her demon blood had left her system. Apparently the blood didn't want to leave and decided to lash out in its last few seconds of life, using her as its weapon. Fortunately she was strong enough to repel it, so it was drained from her system, only after she knocked Kakashi halfway across the room.

Now, Shikamaru was living up to his promise to help her taste food for the first time. She was very eager, he'd realized with a fondness as she studied her hands carefully. So much happier than she used to be.

"What are you doing?" Temari snapped, looking up suddenly. "Go on, lazy."

Shikamaru sighed and obliged, bending down to look at the food he'd emptied out of their cooler and into the fridge. He tried to find something mellow; he didn't want Temari's first food to shock her tongue. And that's when he saw the little box of strawberries sitting on the first shelf. He smiled. Perfect.

"Got it," he said, grabbing the box and standing up. But he held it behind his back as he walked over to Temari, and then slid a hand gently over her eyes.

She stiffened. "Um, hey, what are you doing?"

"You want it to be a surprise, right? Open your mouth."

Temari curiously obliged, and Shikamaru slipped in a slice of strawberry, taking his hand away.

She chewed thoughtfully for a while. He walked around the counter to stand in front of her, waiting. After a while, she grinned and looked up at him. "Dude. Wow." Shikamaru laughed as she put a finger to her lips. "This is amazing! It must be candy."

He snorted. "What? No, you're way off."

"But it tastes good."

"Doesn't mean it's candy."

"What the hell is it then?"

"You gotta guess."

Temari frowned. Shikamaru smirked. He was thoroughly enjoying this.

"Um…I really dunno…"

"It's a fruit," he hinted.

"Whoa, seriously?" Temari blew a strand of hair out of her eyes, concentrating. "Okay, wait, lemme guess…It's an apple."



"It's a berry."


Shikamaru couldn't help but burst out laughing. She glared at him and he said between chuckles, "I'm sorry, this is hilarious!"

"Shikamaru, I have been dead all my life," she muttered. "Now help me out."

"Just go ahead and look if you want to."

Temari sighed and swiveled around on the stool, then she cocked her head to the side, confused as she stared at the little box of strawberries. "Strawberry?"

"Yup," he said as she reached for another and examined it. "Again, not candy."

"But it's so good." She popped another in her mouth and ate it happily, turning around on the seat to face him again. "Damn this shit is amazing! Now I know why Tenten loved it so much!"

He watched her with a smile. "You look different as a human, you know," he said softly. She raised an eyebrow and he held his hands up warily, saying defensively, "You look good, I'm just saying you look less…" His voice faded away, and she eyed him.

"Sad?" she guessed at last. He nodded, and she smiled. The smile was dazzling. "I am less sad."

All of a sudden she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Shikamaru's waist, pulling him closer so she could rest her face against his chest, listening to his heart. He allowed her to do so, and placed a hand on the back of her neck gently while she sat on the barstool hugging him.

"Thanks," she whispered. Her voice meant it, deeply and emotionally.

He kissed the top of her head. "It's okay," he murmured as he felt her shoulders shake; she was starting to cry.

"F-Fuck, I'm sorry," she stuttered through the tears that she tried to hold back. "I don't know why I'm…"

"It's okay," he repeated. "You just…well…changed species. It's hard."

"But it's over now. I'm being stupid," she said, eyes squeezed tight. "I'm just being a fucking idiot."

"No, you're not," he said patiently. When she didn't answer, he frowned. "Hey, look at me." He tilted her face to gaze up at his own, and yet again found himself staring into her eyes. They were like two windows to the sky, or something he'd never known. It intrigued him even more, and he leaned down to follow his urges, and kiss her slowly.

He felt her arms wrapping around his neck, and he lifted her off the stood so she could stand and press her body into his, leaning into him as their lips never parted. She was light and skinny, easy to hold onto, and her kiss tasted like strawberries. At the moment, Shikamaru began to wonder if his death had come early and maybe he had been wrong, and there really was a heaven. Everything was perfect, and even when she parted from him and rested her face in his chest, he couldn't stop kissing the top of her head, holding her in an embrace that never seemed to end.

This woman couldn't have been born a demon. No. She was an angel, Shikamaru knew. A perfect, amazing angel. If Hell came for him right now, he would be happy to follow, because at that moment, he was happier than he ever had been. Because at that moment, he realized he was in love. He was in a deep, sweet love.

And he did not know how to tell her.


"Are you tired?" he murmured into her hair. "You can sleep if you want. It's only eight but—"

"I'm not tired," she said, and he recognized the stubbornness in her voice and smirked.

"Again, you just changed species. You can't tell me you're not tired."

"I just did."

"Well it was a lie." He looked down at her and almost laughed at the defensive glare she wore.

"What's so funny?"

"You're adorable."

"Shut your trap." But she smiled through her frustration and gave him a playful shove.

"Come on." He put a hand to the small of her back and pushed her into the living room, walking behind her. "You can sleep on the sofa."

She looked over her shoulder with a scowl. "I'm not tired and I'm not going to sleep yet."

He raised an eyebrow. "Yet?"

He saw, suddenly, a smirk on her face, and was shocked when she whirled around and looped her arms around his neck yet again. "I think I should find a reason to be tired first," she said, her voice smooth and honey-sweet. She pressed her lips into his. He was starting to memorize the feel of it.

But gradually, this one became different.

She was kissing him harder than before, and her lips were moving faster. His skin tingled when he felt her chest pressing tightly against his. Soon enough, his tongue made it into her mouth, almost beyond his intentions. He almost laughed when he found she still tasted like strawberries. After a while of Shikamaru exploring her mouth, she moaned, and Shikamaru's eyebrow twitched.

That sound coming from her mouth! It was enough to drive him crazy. Shikamaru had no idea how a simple little noise from this woman could do this to him. He wanted to hear it again, over and over again. He wanted more of her, he wanted all of her.

He leaned her back romantically, deepening the sensations even further. Their bodies were pressing closer and closer to each other, her hands were clutching his cheeks, his hair, his chest. Her body felt amazing against his, he realized, and at the same time he came to that conclusion it was his turn to groan when she prodded a knee teasingly into his crotch, before wrapping that same leg around him.

She made a little "Mm…" sound in pleasure as the kiss got a tad more vicious. The sound made Shikamaru's mind whirl.

And just when it was starting to get hot, Shikamaru moved his lips to her neck, her jaw, enjoying the second moan he got out of her as her hands tightened on his shoulders. He wished he could find words to say as she spoke his name breathlessly, but he figured just kissing her as much as he could was a good cover-up.


Neji twitched violently when Tenten suddenly shrieked. She threw herself backwards and stumbled into the kitchen counter, falling over it. She struggled to keep her balance, but pressed herself backwards hysterically, eyes huge as she stared at Neji.

Neji was totally confused. What was this? She looked terrified of him. Her chest was heaving, her face was drawn in terror and agony. "Tenten..." he said again carefully. His voice was croaking with stress, but he didn't care. All he cared about was her. He wanted to touch her again. And he could.He couldn't believe it, he finally could. "Tenten…" He laughed, shaking his head, feeling his eyes water. He took a few steps forward. "Tenten, it's me."

"Stay the fuck away from me."

Neji blinked in surprise, halting. She was clutching the counter behind her tightly. "…Tenten?" Neji asked, worried. This was definitely odd. "What's wrong…? …You are Tenten, right?"

"Leave me alone," Tenten said. Her eyes had tears in them. Neji narrowed his own eyes. She was scared. Absolutely horrified. Of him.

"Tenten, I'm not going to hurt you," Neji said gently, raising his hands as slowly and cautiously as he could. He gave her a gentle smile. "Come on, it's me—"

"Just stop it!" Tenten suddenly screamed, grabbing her head and bowing down. "Leave me alone. Stop doing this. Stop tricking me. Just go away, go away! You're not Neji. You're not Neji. Go away!"

Neji was frozen and bewildered for a second, until it dawned on him.

He closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead. Of course. She'd been in Hell. Of course.

The demons had been tricking her. Using him.

And she thought she was still in Hell…

Neji was furious. His blood boiled. But he knew not to act on this. He pushed the anger down, only focusing on Tenten for now. Forever. Only her…

He opened his eyes, facing her. She was sobbing into her hands, cowering against the counter, gasping words he couldn't understand over and over again, all along the lines of "Please leave me alone, just leave me alone, go away, stop…"

Neji chewed on his lip. He hated seeing her like this, wished he could just go up to her and hold her. But he knew that was only going to provoke her more.

But he knew something he could do.

He carefully pulled a long knife out of his back pocket. "Tenten…" he said slowly, in a controlled voice. "Look at me." She didn't obey, she just closed her eyes tight and covered them with her fingers. Neji was patient. "Tenten, it's me. I'm real. This isn't Hell. And I can prove it to you."

Tenten looked up, but only slightly. Tears slipped through her lids and she stuttered, "Th-That's what they all said…"

"I'm different," Neji insisted softly. "You know it. You can feel it. It's me, Tenten. Watch." He held up the knife.

Tenten flung her arms back in a flash and let her mouth fall open. "Th…Th-Th-That's impossible…" she gasped, her breaths coming in short bursts. "No…But that knife's…No, there's no silver in Hell…There's no silver in Hell…"

"I know. We're not in Hell," Neji said calmly. "And I'm not a demon either. See?" He allowed the knife to come down and slit the skin on one of his arms. Blood poured out, but nothing else happened. "See?" Neji repeated, ignoring the sharp pain. "If I was a demon, I would be burning. I'm not a demon."

Tenten was gaping at him. Neji allowed her to gather her thoughts as she stared at the blood on his arm, then looked up and into his eyes. "How…H-How…?" she whispered. "No…This is a trick...This has to be a trick…"

Neji smiled. "Look behind you, and you'll know for sure. It's not. This is real. Just look behind you."

There was something Neji hadn't mentioned to her yet, and he figured this was the best time to bring it up.

Tenten slowly and timidly turned her head over her shoulder, and there she could see her demon.

It was there in the air, over her shoulder. Black smoke, billowing gently. Its wings were outspread, and it hovered behind her like a reassuring shadow.

"It's your demon, Tenten," Neji said as Tenten's mouth fell open in utter shock. "It found you. It brought you back."

Tenten turned to face Neji again. Her eyes were filled with tears. She was gasping and choking on the air. But to Neji, she looked more beautiful than ever.

"I'm…real..?" she managed to squeak. "I'm alive…?"

Neji allowed himself to relax. "Yes…" he whispered. Yes. She was. She was…

"Oh…my god…" she croaked out, before her eyes rolled into her head, and she crumpled to the floor.

"Hey!" Neji threw himself forwards, grabbing her shoulders tightly and holding her up. But he let out a small, breathy laugh of relief when he realized she'd only feinted. He pulled some of her long hair out of her face, and held her to him, realizing at that moment he was finally holding her again.

He felt a tear drop from his jaw and onto her cheek, and he wiped it away, caressing her face fondly as he did so. Her cheeks were flushed, and she had a healthy glow around her. She wasn't ill. She wasn't dying. She was here. As alive as ever.

"Tenten…" he gasped, leaning down and hiding his face in her neck. He stroked her hair, keeping her in his arms, vowing to never, ever let her slip away again. He pulled back to kiss her forehead. His lips stayed there, and he closed his eyes. There was a weight that had been on his shoulders, and it was gone now. He felt like he was in heaven. If there was a heaven, this would be it. She would be it.

He breathed in her delightful scent, whispering into her skin, "Welcome back, angel."


a/n:So I thought I'd let those of you who have been furiously demanding updates know that I have been suffering from alcohol abuse, I'm in college, I have a job, I'm in a relationship, I have a gym membership, and I have a social life. If you really like my story that much, and you really want me to update, I suggest you say "please" every once in a while, because what you've been doing is not how you talk to a person of whom you admire the work of. A smart thing to do would to be to learn the meaning of the word "patience", and start showing me some respect. I'm not going to apologize for taking a long time. Don't expect any pity from me.

On a lighter note, HELLO. I'm back. And I love you. And I miss you. D: I'm sure you're all really excited right now. Hoorah, Tenten's back and ShikaTema sex is happening. Not that it isn't always happening. Nontheless, I hope you enjoyed the chapter! Please give me a review to tell me how you're doing, and thanks a lot for reading! See you next time. I'll update sooner this time, I promise. (: