A Naruto Fanfiction
One Last Gift - Side Story
Can't Take You Anywhere
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, nor am I making money from this fanfiction.
You don't have to read this story to understand 'One Last Gift', and you don't have to read 'One Last Gift' to understand this one shot. They exists in the same reality, but are not dependent on each other.
Tsunade-sama looked up from the mission report she had been going over to look him in the eye, and from what Nara Shikamaru could tell, the Fifth Hokage was mostly sober and completely ticked off.
"So this is your final report on your last mission?" she asked, her back straight and her fingers running over the paper in front of her as if it were Braille.
His uncharacteristically alert tone only added to the woman's ire. The details of the actual mission were short and explained nothing of what caused him to be here.
"You were able to make contact without any problems?" she asked even though Shikamaru knew she had already read as much in the single page report.
"Hai," he answered simply.
Although the mission had been an A-rank mission, all it had involved was simple intelligence gathering. The rank had been upgraded from a B because it had required a level of subtlety and expertise that the average Chuunin typically didn't posses. Additionally, the area the intelligence gathering had to be done in was high traffic, high profile and a lot of legal and illegal trading was done, but merchandise wasn't the only thing traded there. Information both covert and mundane flowed readily if the money was real and plentiful, and as a result it had a natural collection of deviants that typically knew too much about too many things.
The mission had involved scouting out the validity of a new weapons dealer Konoha was planning on doing business with. While every shinobi had a strong working knowledge of all types of weapons, even if they didn't use them, there simply was no better expert in Konoha than TenTen. And since TenTen was up for consideration for Jounin, it was decided that this mission would be her 'observation by a peer' requirement. That, and the fact that Shikamaru's face was not readily recognized, had been the only reasons he had been assigned a mission so below his rank and outside of his current job title.
He had just been promoted to Captain of an ANBU squad, but he had been in ANBU for almost a year now. However, through various circumstances, most of which were a direct result of the nature of his shadow manipulation jutsu, his face was little known outside the village. All of the other available Jounin who could have performed the evaluation, were too recognizable for this particular assignment. Needless to say, after what he had seen two days ago, Shikamaru planned on not only requesting TenTen to be promoted, but assigned to his ANBU squad, if she lived that is.
"And your cover held throughout the completion of the mission?" Lady Tsunade questioned. Her honey colored eyes grew darker as she fisted her hands together in front of her and leaned her chin against her linked fingers. Shikamaru knew from experience that the gesture was to keep her from striking something, most likely him.
"Hai, it was never questioned," he answered with just the barest of extra information.
In truth, their cover was so well received that it had saved their lives. If his assailants had not completely believed that TenTen was just his civilian wife they wouldn't have so completely underestimated her, leaving her with the opening she had needed to save them both.
When Shikamaru had first read the mission specs he had been dubious to the success of the outlined cover story. He had played the roll of lover before, and he had pulled from his own personal experience to be convincing, but playing a husband was a completely different thing.
"Don't worry about it, Shikamaru," TenTen had told him with a bright smile and a pat on his shoulder on the day that they had prepared their cover stories and mission execution plan. "Just pretend that all the money I'm going to spend is yours. That should put the appropriate amount of scowl and age on your face."
He was only half a year younger than her and an ANBU captain, but when she had pinched his cheek with a cute little wrinkle of her nose, he had felt about ten. As it turned out, they did have to resort to using a modified version of Tsunade-sama's jutsu to make him appear older than TenTen since no amount of frowning made him look older, just constipated.
All TenTen had to do to change her appearance was to apply some make-up and replace her hair buns with two ponytails braided into several loops crisscrossing the back of her head. It had also helped their deception that she had changed her outfit.
She had exchanged her loose pants with low-slung, light green cargo shorts. They had had pleated pockets in front, on both sides and the back, and anywhere there wasn't a pocket there had been a loop to secure various things to. Instead of a shirt that covered practically everything, TenTen had worn a cherry-blossom pink top almost identical to Ino's except there had been a triangular area removed over the top of her chest that exposed the fact that TenTen did indeed have a bust larger than his former teammate. That particular piece of information would win him more than a few bets if he ever felt like collecting.
If the clothes and make-up had not been enough to render TenTen practically unidentifiable to all that knew her, she also had weaponry strapped to every exposed surface of her skin. While sharp objects and TenTen were almost always spoken of in the same sentence, Kohona's weapons expert had never been overt about it, but what she had been wearing for their mission went beyond the pale.
TenTen's calves, her thighs, her forearms and her upper arms had double strapped holsters containing weapons that Shikamaru couldn't identify let alone use. But the part of the outfit that had the biggest effect in changing her appearance was the nylon harness that wrapped around her chest just below her breasts and around her shoulders. It was meant to hold a pair of swords crossed on her back, but what it had done was to force her breasts tighter together creating an even longer line of cleavage then was naturally occurring. The Fifth Hokage couldn't have done better.
The overall effect had been a pretty girl with a weapons fetish or a dominatrix with a cute fetish. Either way, TenTen had been completely on target with that get-up and his roll as her over indulgent older husband for the mission. They had drawn the exact amount of attention they needed to attract the weapons dealer's eye without drawing unwanted scrutiny from the deviants in the area.
TenTen had that mission locked down from beginning to end. It had been executed flawlessly, without a single hitch. The only mistake that had been made had been his and Lady Tsunade's assumption that his face would be unknown.
"This says that the mission was a complete success."
Shikamaru agreed with his Hokage with a solemn nod of his head. The hands that had been previously clenched under Tsunade-sama's chin came crashing down on the desk, splitting the surface of the wood clean down the center. It was a testament to her restraint that the desk did not shatter completely.
"Then tell me Nara why one of my best kunoichi is now fighting for her life after being found in your arms, while you have not a single mark on you!"
Shikamaru felt each word like a physical blow. Not since the mission to retrieve Sasuke had he failed so completely and TenTen was paying the price for his arrogance.
His hands behind his back clenched in an effort to dispel the lingering feeling of her lungs struggling to breath despite the holes through them. His chest still burned, and may for the rest of his life ache, from the experimental medical jutsu that had been used on him to force TenTen to breathe once she had lost consciousness. Even now Shikamaru could see TenTen's pained smile and kind eyes forgiving him for letting her die.
A hand on his shoulder startled him so badly that Shikamaru gasped out loud. His unfocused gaze fell onto the eyes of the Fifth Hokage before him. Her expression wasn't exactly kind, but it was sympathetic and only served to make him feel that much worse.
"Just tell me what happened, Shikamaru."
He sighed with genuine fatigue before launching into his tale.
Ok, he had to admit, Nara Shikamaru, tactical genius, had to admit, he was wrong and TenTen was right, but he planned on keeping it between his left and right ear for now.
Leaning against the wall looking like a bored, late thirty-something, indulgent husband, Shikamaru watched the lovefest in front of him trying to either not laugh or throw up.
TenTen had told him that they wouldn't have to search for their subject, that the weapons dealer would approach them as long as they stayed out in the open. Ten days after escorting his 'wife' around the market place, purchasing a mound of seemingly random things they had been contacted.
Immediately after that, the two of them had been shown to a modest sized private home where Kinta-san (otherwise known as the target) hosted buyers of his private stock. For four days Shikamaru watched not only Kinta, but all of his other potential buyers drool themselves into dehydration over TenTen. At this point Shikamaru wasn't sure if it was her almost indecent outfit or her obvious love of weaponry that had every man in the room hard for her, but he had a suspicion that it was probably both and it was working better than he would have ever imagined.
Despite the obvious fanboy atmosphere, TenTen's admirers were surprisingly hands-off. He suspected it had to do mainly with his constant silent, foreboding presence and the 'adoring' smiles TenTen would throw him every so often while charming her audience. In truth it amazed him how easy it was for TenTen to create the illusion of a loving couple with so little contact between the two of them. Not that he was complaining. Anything that kept Temari from castrating him was good in his book.
They had shared only two kisses in public, both of which were mild in comparison to what he'd had to perform for other missions, but the liberal use of intertwined hands and their surprisingly natural, lively, playful banter in the market place had cemented their status as a loving married couple without the two of them having to hang all over each other constantly.
In truth the last two weeks had been more like a vacation than a mission. There was no training, just light exercises in their rented room at night to keep themselves loose. It was a welcome change from the ANBU training he had been forced to endure for the last few months. Shopping was something he would never enjoy, but TenTen had made it tolerable by starting a game where they each tried to out do the other with wild tales of how they had met and 'fell in love' to shock the merchants that were eavesdropping. And unlike a lot of his other two man cell missions, TenTen didn't feel the need to fill the silence that often fell between them with useless chatter. Hell, Shikamaru had even asked her to play shogi with him.
She was a surprisingly good player, and if she looked at the game with a more serious eye instead of just for pure fun, Shikamaru was sure she'd be a formidable opponent. The best part was that she never took her defeat harshly. TenTen was always ready to try again, convinced that 'this time' she'd get him.
'Everyone has a blindspot', she had told him cheekily one evening when she had been on the verge of actually trapping him. In the end she just didn't have enough pieces to finish the job. That night, with an exaggerated pout that had threaten to break into a smile, she had told him that he had to sleep on the couch. Since it was his turn anyway, Shikamaru didn't put up a fight.
"Well, Takeshi," TenTen purred his cover name as she slipped her arm between his elbow and waist so that she could thread their fingers together and lay her head on his upper arm, "I think I've seen everything I need to."
Shikamaru responded with a non-committal grunt that he hoped covered the bark of laughter that bubbled up at the crestfallen looks of TenTen's fanclub. If she had have been his actual wife, Shikamaru was sure he would have been quite annoyed at the jealous frowns he was receiving right now.
"Izanami, please say that you'll stay a bit longer," Kinta pleaded wistfully. "I have a shipment of goods coming from the Tea Country that I'm sure you will find most intriguing."
TenTen smiled kindly and Shikamaru was struck by how friendly, but reserved the gesture was. It neither rejected nor invited Kinta's attention but it completely captivated her subject and Shikamaru had to wonder if maybe TenTen had been severely underutilized for more traditional kunoichi missions.
"I'm sorry Kinta-kun, but I've taken Takeshi away from his work for far too long already."
Having played this part for two weeks, an appropriate response was easy and immediate.
"I don't mind," Shikamaru said gruffly and TenTen smiled up at him with more warmth than she had shown their host before patting him on the chest with her free hand next to where her head rested on his arm.
"Yes, but I'm sure your boss will," TenTen turned back to Kinta and offered her free hand for a closing handshake. "Don't worry Kinta-kun, this won't be the last you see of me as long as you keep such rare finds."
Shikamaru didn't have to fake his frustration at having to wait while TenTen said her goodbyes and made promises that he knew she couldn't and wouldn't be able to keep. TenTen had given him the code phrase for the completed mission and he was eager to be out of this jutsu. While not as difficult or draining as his own personal technique it required a level of focused awareness that his shadow possession didn't, and living with it 'on' for four days had given him a low grade headache that had taken up residence on the top of his spine.
The two of them made their way through the marketplace their presence was now so common place that they were greeted by name. TenTen made polite conversation, steadily moving forward, but at a slow pace, too slow for Shikamaru's waning patience and throbbing skull. When they passed through a set of clothing stalls that were spaced closely together, he held back, and between one draped canopy and the next where the deepening evening shadows were the thickest, he dropped the jutsu.
The pressure on the back of his skull instantly fell away and Shikamaru huffed in relief. He lifted his hand and felt along his jaw line to assure himself that the goatee that came with the jutsu was gone. With practiced ease, Shikamaru fished a hair tie from a vest pocket and pulled up his loose hair into his preferred style. Now feeling 100% better, a wicked smirk lit his face as he approached his 'wife' from behind.
TenTen was idly sifting through the items on display but it was easy to see that she was still focused enough to realize that he was near. She tilted her head and shifted her arm away from her side in what Shikamaru had come to recognize was an invitation to 'cuddle'. Still smirking, mostly for the glaring shopkeeper, Shikamaru slid his arm around TenTen's middle and rested his head in the crook of her neck. She immediately froze, probably from the conflicting information of his chakra that she recognized, and the smooth shaven chin that she did not.
"My, my what would your husband say about meeting up with your young lover in the open this way?"
Shikamaru did not expect the response he got. TenTen's face blazed with a blush so intense he could feel the heat on his own skin. Before he could draw back, she locked his hand that had been lightly resting against her stomach in a taijutsu hold that had Shikamaru on his knees in submission in an instant. Looking up into her truthfully embarrassed face, Shikamaru had to wonder if Temari was completely mistaken as to how intimate Kankurou and Kohona's weapons mistress had been, because the blushing girl looking down at him right now couldn't have possibly done all the things that had been rumored around the Kazekage's palace.
"I believe he would say how 'troublesome' it would be to hide the body," she hissed before jerking her hand loose and stomping away.
Shikamaru had never considered TenTen to be 'scary' like Ino, Sakura, their Hokage and even Temari could be, but the aura she was throwing off right now was more deadly than frightening.
"It was a joke," Shikamaru intreated as he rolled to his feet to follow her. "Ten..."
He didn't even get a chance to finish saying her real name before she whirled on him, her blazing hazel eyes cutting like one of her kunai. Shikamaru had never seen so much green to her eyes before.
"I am going to go get some dinner, I suggest you 'find yourself' before I get back."
As she moved away towards the setting sun, Shikamaru wondered what had set her off. Sure he had usurped her authority by ending his jutsu before she had given the official go ahead as they had agreed, but he had performed many other small breaches of protocol during this mission and had only received a head shake and eye-roll as punishment.
Shrugging the joke gone wrong off, Shikamaru made his way to their rented room, adopting his alter-ego long enough to get into the top floor room before dropping it again. He checked on their possessions, mostly items they had bought during the mission, and found everything as they had left it, traps still intact. He debated for a moment whether to pack them or not and decided to let his 'squad captain' make the choice since she seemed all huffy all the sudden.
By the time he heard the cracking tap at the window, it was already too late.
In reflex, Shikamaru threw up his hand to protect himself but the projectile had already imbedded itself into his neck leaving a neat little hole the same size as the one in the cracked window he now stared out of. Whomever had attacked him had done it at a great distance for him to have not felt their presence, which meant he had a scant few moments to formulate a defense.
He didn't know what poison was coursing through him, but it was fast acting, too fast acting, and it was radiating outward from the 'injection' site. The first thing that was affected was his neck and then his shoulders, causing the muscles there to stiffen and become unresponsive to his commands. By the time he was able to retrieve an emergency pill case from his bags on the floor, his arms were leaden and it took everything he had to bring his hand up to his face, but before he could down any of the antidote capsules a grip around his wrist stopped him.
"I don't think so."
Shikamaru didn't recognize the voice and he couldn't lift his head to see who it was, but that was remedied when his assailant kneed him in the side causing Shikamaru to painfully fall onto his back. The bare light bulb above the attacker's head bathed the man's features in a blinding white light and Shikamaru found that he couldn't even close his eyes or look away from the lightbulb's glare. There was enough of a shadow for him to see that he had no idea who this person was.
"I thought it would take more to get to you, but I guess being on vacation has softened you up," the man who appeared to be at least twice Shikamaru's age smiled as he knelt down to be closer. "You should have held that jutsu a little longer, Nara Shikamaru, we were just about to leave thinking our intel was mistaken when you pulled that little stunt on your wife."
Shikamaru's mind was reeling, the only thing he still had control of. The man motioned and two other men came forward to haul Shikamaru up and toss him into one of the chairs at the table. This situation was going from worse to something even more dire. Not only did they know who he was, they most likely knew what his abilities were, which was why they had attacked from afar, they also knew that he wasn't alone.
"She's quite the little spitfire," the man drawled, pulling up another chair, turning it backwards and sat facing him. "I wonder what she would do if she found out about your little affair with the Kazekage's sister. We could always find out, of course, before the main show."
Shikamaru found that even his heart was affected by the poison since it refused to increase in rate with his raising panic. They knew about Temari, a relationship the both of them had been keeping secret as to be left alone by well meaning friends and family. The feelings they had for each other were too deep and too new to share, neither one of them willing to allow outside influences to affect the outcome of their relationship. He knew that people suspected they were together, how could they not, but no one dared to ask directly.
But if this man knew about Temari, how could he believe that TenTen was actually his wife? The only explanation was that Shikamaru's attacker had only observed him outside of Konoha and that this man had fallen for the performance he and TenTen had created for the mission.
"The original plan was to take you and the sand-nin and give you a taste of what it's like to have to watch someone you care about die slowly while all you could do was watch," the man said, his grin holding only bitter contempt. "But this is so much better, because we can do it twice."
Shikamaru was a trained shinobi. He knew the consequences of his profession. Temari was also a shinobi and the sister of the Kazekage and she knew better than most the dangers. TenTen was also aware of the possibility of death with every assignment, but this time it was different.
It was one thing to lose a comrade, lover or family to a mission, it was something else entirely for death to come because of some wack-job with a personal vendetta against him. TenTen and Temari were going to be deliberately caught in the crossfire, and there was nothing Shikamaru was going to be able to do to stop it.
"I know you have no idea who I am, or what you've done, but that doesn't matter," the man continued, leaning forward to glare into Shikamaru's unmoving eyes. "As long as you can hear their screams, see them burn, I'll have what I want."
Whomever this guy was, he was wrong about one thing. Shikamaru had been on dozens of missions, and he remembered every one of them that resulted in the death, either of a comrade or the enemy. There was only one in which he had held a group of attacking masked ninja with his jutsu while the other half remained trapped inside a burning building.
He had been awaiting back up, his squad members had been down with injuries, he had been trying to hold out until help arrived. Shikamaru remember clearly the voice of one of his captives screaming unendingly for his younger brother, a voice he now recognized as the man before him.
"Boss, she's on her way back," one of the other men said from behind Shikamaru, and the man's smile widened.
"I noticed your little 'Izanami' knows her way around a weapon or two. It must make things exciting,' the man sneered. "We'll just have to disarm her before we start having fun, so why don't you sit there like a good little shadow and don't give us away."
The men arranged him as if he were a manikin in a store window, making it appear from the doorway that he was looking over the shoji board on the table in front of him. Then they were gone, but not very far, just on the roof, but out of sight. It only took a minute more for TenTen to walk through the door.
Shikamaru's peripheral vision could only pick up on the movement of TenTen's feet as she made her way from the doorway towards the bed. He didn't do anything dramatic like scream inside his head, but he did try and will TenTen to notice her surroundings, to sense the enemy above them. By her jerky, stomping movement Shikamaru figured she was still too pissed at him to be focusing outwardly.
"You know you can be a real jerk when you want to be," TenTen abraded him confirming his suspicions.
He heard her toss something onto the bed before the sound of her unbuckling some of her weapons reached his ears. He assumed it was the same disarming routine she had performed every night for over two weeks. First the straps to her upper arms would go then her forearms, her calves, her thighs and finally the swords across her back, but Shikamaru only heard two straps unbuckle before she marched over and gave his shoulder a shove.
"You know it's easier to yell at you when you look at me."
Shikamaru was now angled such that he could see TenTen's face. Her cheeks were flushed, her braids was slightly frayed, and her eyebrows were drawn together to support the frown she wore, but her eyes were flat dirt brown and as cold as stone.
She knew, Shikamaru suddenly realized as TenTen seemingly ignored the fact he was not moving to yell at him for his earlier behavior. In the middle of one of her rants, the man and his henchmen returned. The ring leader grabbed TenTen by her bare upper arms so tightly that the skin turned white under his fingers.
"As much as I'd love to hear you flay him alive with your tongue," the man hissed into TenTen's ear as the other two men flanked him. "I'd rather have him watch me filet you open with my kunai."
TenTen gave the appropriate amount of fear to the gasp she let out, but her face showed none. Shikamaru helplessly watched as the man easy wrapped one long arm around TenTen's upper chest and reached into the pouch at his thigh for a long bladed kunai with the other hand. The man couldn't hold her flush to his body since her swords were still strapped to her back but the hold he did have on her looked to be sufficient to subdue her, if she hadn't have been TenTen and a trained shinobi.
When the man's blade came up towards her chest, TenTen's left elbow twisted in an unnatural way that only double jointed people could accomplish and the spring-loaded blade that had been hidden inside the case strapped to her forearm extended out, blocking the approaching kunai. During one of their boring nights here, TenTen had shown him her weapons that she had used as set dressing. He knew that particular blade responded to precise movements of her muscles to extend, retract and even launch if she wished it to.
"Bitch," the man growled.
"Idiot,' TenTen said back, barely being able to hold back the steel reaching for her flesh, but TenTen didn't have to keep up the stalemate for long.
Shikamaru became aware of the smell of a fuse burning in the same moment that TenTen brought up her other forearm to take a hold of the man's arm across her shoulders. Though her weight was slight in comparison to the man holding her, TenTen used the element of surprise and a viscous head butt to his oversized nose to overpower her captor, but instead of breaking free like Shikamaru expected, she held on tighter, almost hefting the man onto her back as she threw herself on top of her teammate.
The explosion was deafening.
Shikamaru's eyes were already watering from being forced open for so long, but the smoke in the air only made it worse despite being covered by both TenTen and the man on her back she had used as a shield. Shikamaru's ears were still ringing so he felt rather than heard TenTen cough against him. She seemed to be having a difficult time getting the dead weight of the man off her back, but that was when Shikamaru realized that the blast had thrown them all against the wall. The chair he had been in was kindling below him, and TenTen was being squashed between him and his would-be assassin's bulky weight.
TenTen was finally able to get an angle to throw the weight off her back and suddenly her face came into his line of sight. It was there for only an instant before she reached out and closed his eyelids gently with the tips of her fingers. Shikamaru would have hugged her if he could have for the gesture. The relief to his eyes was so intense it was almost painful, he didn't however, anticipate the sudden wave of claustrophobia that washed over him with his sight taken away.
Shikamaru couldn't move, couldn't hear with the explosion still ringing in his ears and now he couldn't see and he was plunged into the reality of what it must feel like for his enemies when he trapped them in his shadow. His only link to the outside world was the feel of TenTen quickly run her hands over his limbs and torso, testing for broken bones and internal injuries. Small hands pushed and pulled until she was able to maneuver him onto her back and the lack of a sword hilt jamming into his stomach must have meant that she had removed one of her katana's from her back holster.
One slim arm was wrapped across his upper thighs to pin his legs to TenTen's chest and her other hand had a hold of the back of his vest to keep him from overbalancing over the back of her small shoulder. Shikamaru deduced that she had to be using chakra to not only keep them balanced, but to leap from the floor to the window, then to what he assumed was the rooftop across the street from the hotel they had been staying at.
He was temporarily glad of his sightless state as they moved at unnatural speeds through the trees outside the town all while he dangled from TenTen's shoulder. Of course the same poison that kept his heart and breath from racing in fear would probably stop him from throwing up too, but with the day he had been having so far, he wouldn't count on it.
After what seemed like a considerable distance, TenTen stopped. Shikamaru realized that his full hearing had returned when he could make out the sound of TenTen's harsh breathing and the soft movement of the wind through the trees.
Being almost twice her weight, there was no way that TenTen could gently lower him to the ground, but the impact was far less than it could have been if she had have just tossed him off her shoulder. Without uttering a word, she reopened his eyes and examined them while feeling his pulse with her other hand. Shikamaru's relief at being able to see again was replaced by embarrassment when TenTen then opened his mouth and sniffed his breath before blindly reaching into one of her many shorts' pockets and extracting a pill case.
She flipped the lid open one handed and briefly looked away from his eyes to look at the case contents. He wasn't sure how she did it, but she selected what she wanted with her tongue before snapping the lid closed. If they had not been frozen by the poison, Shikamaru's eyes would have widened with surprise when TenTen tilted his head, pressed her mouth to his and forced her tongue inside.
It was immediately obvious that she was not giving him some kind of a fair-well kiss when Shikamaru felt the jagged edge of a popped antidote capsule being shoved under his own tongue. The thick bitter liquid that leaked out instantly burned and Shikamaru wondered if maybe TenTen had chosen the wrong capsule, but within seconds he regained enough muscle control to tilt his head ever so slightly. TenTen certainly knew her poisons and her antidotes.
The moment he could move his eyes from blankly looking forward to capturing TenTen's intensely focused gaze, she gave him a smile and then arranged him so that he was sitting against a tree, his legs folded in front of him and his hands in his lap, almost like his was meditating.
"Ok, so this is not good right?" she whispered as she rummaged through his vest until she came up with his wireless radio. She quickly affixed it around his throat, and placed the tiny speaker to his left ear before activating it in an continuously open mode.
"I don't know what you did but you have a whole hunter squad of shinobi after you," she told him as she retrieved her own wireless from her seemingly endless pockets and put it on as well.
"There was at least fifteen more waiting in the market for you. It won't take them long to figure out what happened and follow us," TenTen informed him calmly as she pulled one katana from the holster on her back and the other one from a loop on her shorts, where she must have placed it so that she could carry him.
Shikamaru was once again glad that he had not been able to see during their run here for surely that bare katana blade would have been only centimeters from his throat the whole time seeing where it had been hanging on her hip. With nimble fingers, TenTen opened a special compartment in the thick hilts of the swords and extracted a pair of her highly specialized summoning scrolls.
She had gleefully told him all about them. Instead of paper, they were made of some kind of fabric only made in Suna, and while they were just as long, they were only a third of the thickness of her other Dragon Scrolls, a present from Kankurou she had said. TenTen had hidden them away fearing that they might identify her since she was the only one Shikamaru had ever known to use scrolls the way she did.
"I'm going to hold them off while that capsule takes effect," she told him as she placed a kunai into his right hand.
Unable to reply, Shikamaru watched TenTen flash through a significant number of handsigns before placing what he knew to be a rather advanced concealing genjutsu over him.
"There that should hide you for awhile," she sighed looking over her shoulder quickly before looking back. "The antidote isn't going to work completely, it's too broad spectrum. But luckily for us your jutsu doesn't require you to move much more than that sarcastic little mind of yours."
It was an oversimplification of his jutsu, but not entirely inaccurate. If he concentrated hard enough and with a healthy dose of extra chakra he could use his shadow without handsigns, but his targets had be perfectly laid out for him in order for it to work. He wanted to tell her this, and remind her that his jutsu was practically useless on a night like tonight with only a dim quarter moon in the sky, but all that left his throat was a breathy croak.
"Hey, don't try and speak until you know you can use your jutsu. I don't need you ruining a perfectly good genjutsu by talking," TenTen quipped as she returned her katanas to their sheaths on her back and tucked the scrolls away for later use.
"I'll be waiting for your call."
With that TenTen disappeared. Shikamaru's ears rang with the effort of straining to hear something, anything in the stillness of the forest. He could blink his eyes now, but it did nothing to improve his limited vision in the pale moonlight. He could see that TenTen had placed him against a tree facing a wide clearing and while it allowed for more light to fall on to the ground it was nowhere near enough for him to use his technique.
It was several minutes before he heard the first signs of battle. The sound of steel ringing against steel carried the farthest, but the hollow thunk of kunai and shurikan hitting trees was just as telling, and helped him follow the action even if he couldn't see it. The now familiar feel of TenTen's chakra ebbed and flowed and spiked in strange patterns that were unusual to Shikamaru's senses, but at no point did it seem to falter. Even when it would wink out for a moment or two it was obviously a ploy TenTen used to hide from her attackers or confuse them, because as quickly as it would disappear it would flare back to life, sharper than it had before.
Suddenly combatants burst through the foliage to his left in a flurry of metal flashing blue in the moonlight. There were at least two dozen masked ninja, almost a dozen more than TenTen had originally estimated and they were attacking and retreating in small waves against the single figure with exposed skin appearing white in the wane light, her flower pink half top and cute cargo shorts streaked in blood.
The braids in TenTen's hair that had once been secured to the back of her head were now fling free resembling seaweed snapping back and forth in crashing waves as she fought. She was too far away for Shikamaru to tell for certain, but TenTen basically appeared to be uninjured though one of her katana's was missing, and the weapons holsters on her right and left calves were empty. In a coordinated effort, the gang of assailants formed two groups and came at TenTen from two separate angles.
To fend off the foes to her left, TenTen drew a split bladed kunai from the holster on her thigh and to defend her right flank her katana clashed repeatedly against the ninjas' swords. With her attention more on the left because of the shorter reach of the kunai, TenTen was caught unaware when one of the shinobi to her right snuck in with a sai and trapped her blade in the long tongs of his weapon. As it was designed to, with the proper amount of directed pressure the sai snapped the katana blade in half. TenTen barely spared the man that had destroyed her sword a glance before she threw the remainder of the katana with perfect accuracy to embed up to the hilt in his throat. That particular maneuver earned her a small amount of breathing room when her enemies saw the consequences of getting too close and TenTen immediately took advantage of it.
It had been awhile since Shikamaru had seen TenTen perform her signature move. In fact, now that he really thought about it, the Chuunin exams was probably the only time he had seen TenTen really all out fight, but unlike that time Shikamaru couldn't find a single flaw in her technique. TenTen sheathed her split bladed kunai and retrieved her scrolls in one move, but the opening to the Twin Raising Dragons wasn't the way Shikamaru remembered it.
Instead of coming out of the tree she was perched in and planting the scrolls on either side of her on the ground, TenTen threw them to land in the middle of the clearing. When they came to rest pointing skyward, the ground shook unexpectedly and TenTen leapt into the air. As she soared towards the scrolls, TenTen performed a more complex series of handsigns than Shikamaru had seen during the exams. The moment she was directly above and between the scrolls they unraveled with a screeching roar of light and fire and twisted their way upward towards their mistress.
The fabric of the scrolls twisted and rotated faster than anything Shikamaru had seen until there was just a white blur cocooning TenTen from sight. The masked ninjas approached completely unaware of what was about to happen. In one mass the thugs attacked and instantly steel emerged from the cocoon in every direction, blocking out the weak light of the moon completely. The ninja up front didn't get a chance to scream and the ones behind them gave only garbled chokes. The only assailants to survive the onslaught were the ones four bodies deep behind the frontline.
All at once the scrolls stopped and dropped to the earth, listlessly falling and TenTen was not far behind them. Shikamaru could instantly tell that something was not right. Up until that moment TenTen had appeared to be hail and healthy with only a few shallow cuts at best to show for fighting against so many enemies, but now she stood almost drunkenly on her feet.
Had that been a new technique that she hadn't perfected yet? Had something gone wrong? Every shinobi knew that executing a jutsu in battle before it was perfected was dangerous, even deadly if it was of a high enough level. He knew that she hadn't brought along her typical arsenal of weapons in favor of putting on a good show for the merchant. Had this situation pushed TenTen into using a jutsu that she couldn't yet handle, because she had nothing else?
"Can you use your jutsu yet?"
Shikamaru was startled when he heard TenTen's voice gasping into his left ear until he remembered about the wireless radio. He flexed his fingers and was just able to rotate his wrist a bit, but that was the least of his concerns.
"It's too dark, the shadows are too..." he tried to explain, his voice small and raspy even in his own head, but TenTen cut him off.
"Can you physically perform the jutsu?!" she questioned with more bite, and Shikamaru could see her gather her feet beneath her out in the small field before dashing off and away from her pursuers.
Shikamaru concentrated on his jutsu and he could feel the pull of it inside him, but with no strong shadows around to attach it to, it just pooled there beneath his skin, useless.
"Yes I can, but..."
"Then get ready to move fast when you get your opening," TenTen interrupted, and Shikamaru could hear her straining under the hard command in her voice. "This is our last shot, Shikamaru. I'm out of weapons and options."
TenTen's words confirmed his fears and he tried to push his teammate into another plan.
"Go for help," he told her, knowing that she had a decent chance of escaping now while the enemy was collecting themselves.
"What, and leave you here?" she scoffed her voice reflecting how stupid she thought that idea was. "Like I said, Shika, we're out of options. Just be ready."
Shikamaru gritted his teeth, but didn't comment. He didn't want to doubt TenTen's abilities, but he feared she had overestimated his and whatever plan she had concocted would fail because of him.
In the faint light of the quarter moon, Shikamaru could just make out the image of TenTen and her remaining enemies as they weaved in and out of the tree line. There was a pattern in her movements though he could not discern their purpose. At one point she moved close enough that he could see that she had gathered up her used scrolls. She was using them as makeshift batons. Things were even worst than he realized if TenTen was reduced to such tactics.
He counted eight men attacking. They were spacing themselves out, never grouping themselves too tightly after seeing how TenTen had reduced their numbers so quickly with her Dragon Scrolls. In the next few minutes, Shikamaru was able to bring his arms up and arrange his hands into his jutsu's focusing handsign.
"Now Shika," TenTen said breathlessly over the wireless, her voice sounding too hollow for Shikamaru's liking.
Ignoring the second use of a nickname, Shikamaru strained in the moonlight to locate TenTen. Then suddenly in the middle of the clearing she materialized, and in a slightly less than graceful leap she was once again airborne, both of her spent scrolls in one hand and an unidentifiable something in the other. TenTen had put a large amount of spin into her jump causing her to rotate like a pig on a spit. Below, her eight attackers hesitated at the edges of the clearing, obviously waiting to see what she would do.
Nearing the top of her ascent, TenTen released her scrolls while she was facing downward. The whisper thin material spread out at her command, crossing in the sky below her, but there were no more weapons forthcoming and Shikamaru still couldn't see were this plan was taking them. It only took TenTen's perusers an instant to realize that she was completely out of projectiles, and they swiftly came forward. With her back now towards the ground, TenTen heaved the object in her other hand high above her. Quite literally with a flash, Shikamaru understood TenTen's simple, but brilliant plan.
The white hot flare that she had thrown above her ignited. Its resulting blinding light made her abandoned scrolls create a shadow 'X' in the now brightly lit clearing below. With perfect clarity Shikamaru realized that TenTen had been maneuvering her attackers in a deliberate pattern so that the 'X' she had created fell perfectly on top of them. It was with almost no effort at all that Shikamaru used his Shadow Strangle jutsu to snap eight necks simultaneously.
In the flickering light of the dying flare, Shikamaru saw TenTen's relieved and triumphant smile. He returned it with a smirk of his own, so it was in complete shock that Shikamaru witnessed a spear enter TenTen's completely unprotected side.
The force with which the weapon hit her had stopped TenTen's slow spin and had buried the blade completely within her. Her petite hands instantly grasped the protruding shaft to attempt to pull the naginata from her, but she was already falling and too close to the ground to remove it before the wooden handle impacted with the earth, forcing the weapon completely through her and out the other side. The light was too dim for Shikamaru to see TenTen at this distance and the tall grass would have hid her anyway, but the spear stood over two meters tall, like a blood soaked sign post or a memorial marker.
"I should have known that you wouldn't have chosen a simple civilian."
The antidote that TenTen had given him had released the poison's hold on his heart enough that it began to pound painfully in his chest. The one that had started all of this, the one TenTen had used as a shield against her own bomb in the hotel room was slowly approaching her still body from the treeline. The man was limping and bleeding, and his entire back looked burned away, but he kept moving.
The man took the gore covered spear shaft and with both hands he swept TenTen's body up into the air like dirt at the tip of a broom. The petite form met the earth again a few meters from Shikamaru and her limbs gave no resistance or assistance as she tumbled that last bit of distance towards him. She came to a stop facing away from him, too far away to touch but close enough for Shikamaru to see the slight jerky movements of her torso. TenTen was still alive.
"I had thought that the blonde was going to be the one to give us trouble, guess I was wrong about that one," he said as he came to a stop in front of TenTen. "I had hoped to drag this out farther, but dying is dying I suppose."
With that said he kicked TenTen almost gently over so that she was now on her back facing upwards, her arms spread out beside her. Her chest spasms were in time with the movements of her gasping mouth, TenTen's body was desperately trying to bring in air to her ruined lungs.
"Shouldn't be too long now," the nameless man smiled as he knelt down beside the dying woman and gently turned her head some more so that she was fully facing Shikamaru.
The Nara tried to lift the kunai in his hand, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get it above his folded knee. He also couldn't look away from TenTen's glassy, sightless eyes and the bloody foam that was now draining from the corner of her mouth. The new position of her head allowed her to bring in a little more air but it wasn't enough to sustain her.
The gasps and spasms got farther and farther apart until finally there was one last deep shutter and TenTen lay still.
"No," Shikamaru croaked out, hearing his own hollow voice echo through TenTen's still active wireless speaker that had dislodged from her ear in her fall.
"One down, one to go," Shikamaru heard the man say jovially, but he wouldn't look away from his fallen comrade.
There was a silver glaze that was sliding over TenTen's eyes that had to be a trick of the light, but the tingle in the air that hadn't been there a moment ago was raising the hairs on the back of Shikamaru's neck and he was certain that something was about to happen.
The man that was determined to make him suffer, stood and then stepped over TenTen's unmoving body, but Shikamaru didn't look away, even when the man grabbed a hold of his vest collar and hauled him to his feet. If he had looked away, Shikamaru would have missed the fact that TenTen's steel coated earthen eyes tracked his movement upward and in the same moment that he smelt sulfur and ozone in the air, another blinding flash filled the area, but this time it whited out everything.
When the light dissipated, Shikamaru found himself falling forward and he had just enough control of his arms to brace himself before he hit the ground. But he didn't land completely in the grass, his upper body had come to rest on something soft that had squished sickeningly and did not move.
"TenTen?" Shikamaru asked knowing that there was no way she would ever be able to answer.
"TenTen!" he demanded this time, using every bit of his fear, anger and desperation that he felt to force his half frozen body upward, off her unmarked belly where he landed and towards her head.
There was no strain on him to do it, just the frustrating unresponsiveness of his muscles as he crawled. At one point he used the kunai that he still held to stab into the ground and haul himself forward. When his face was level with hers, Shikamaru reached his shaking hand out and felt at her throat. There was a pulse, there was life, and when he tilted his head to look into TenTen's eyes there was also awareness.
TenTen's diaphragm wasn't even attempting to function anymore and her throat had stopped its useless gasping, but her eyes watched him. Her pupils were contracting and dilating in jerky motions, but every time her eyes tried to fall away from his, TenTen would bring them back.
"Don't," Shikamaru pleaded with her, begging her not to give up even though he knew it was only a matter of minutes before she would be gone.
TenTen smiled then, from her bloodied lips to her warm brown eyes. It was the kind of smile one would give a child that had said something completely irrational and naive. Shikamaru felt her hand move against his side, forming the ninja hand signal for acknowledgement of a command.
The shadow manipulator could turn his head just enough to see the feet of the speaker to the side and slightly behind him along with another pair of feet, but he didn't need to see the speaker's face. Shikamaru would know her voice anywhere.
"Temari! Thank, Kami. Please, tell me you have a medic with you," Shikamaru rambled, feeling the unnatural stillness in the air at his request.
"Shikamaru," his lover said softly, holding his shoulder with a firm hand, "she's gone."
He wished he could smack Temari's hand away, but all he could manage was to jerk his shoulder from her grasp.
"Get a medic, Temari," Shikamaru demanded, stoking TenTen's face roughly to keep her focused and conscious a little bit longer.
"Don't do this to yourself," Temari tried to reason, but he refused to listen.
"Get a damn medic!"
"I do have something that I could try," a timid voice interrupted.
"You're a researcher, not a medic, Shiro," Temari gritted out, obviously pissed that her teammate had spoken up.
"Do it," Shikamaru demanded.
"Shikamaru, he's a goddamn genin paper pusher. You can't..."
"Do. It." Shikamaru bit out as TenTen's eyes lost all their light.
Shikamaru heard Temari huff in agitation, but she made no move to stop her young teammate. The shadow manipulator was surprised to see how young the teenaged boy knelt beside him and TenTen actually was when he entered into Shikamaru's limited range of vision. A spike of fear registered at the obvious uncertainty of the kids' handsigns, but Shikamaru was determined.
TenTen had risked everything to save him, and he could do nothing less in return. Once the handsigns were complete, the genin's hands glowed an emerald green that wasn't quite the same shade as healing medical chakra. Shiro placed one hand on Shikamaru's chest and one on TenTen's chest and released the jutsu.
Shikamaru instantly couldn't breathe.
Once when his was a child, Shikamaru had almost drowned and the blood pounding in his ears and the burning in his chest now was identical to that experience. He could hear Temari yelling and the genin trying to explain, but choose to focus on the spastic movements of TenTen's chest that moved in time with his.
Suddenly he was shoved to the side. Temari almost completely blocked his field of vision as she leaned over his teammate, tilted TenTen's head back and began to administer CPR. Bloody foam was forced out of the exit and entry wounds in TenTen's chest and Shikamaru's lover barked at her teammate to cover them.
Shikamaru watched as Temari's efforts to breath life into TenTen allowed him to breathe again as well. Once the genin had TenTen's chest wounds covered with plastic patches made for this exact purpose, Temari leaned back, her lips covered in transfered blood. Temari wiped her mouth and stared at him, her eyes showing concern and fear as she felt for his pulse and that of TenTen's. Temari sighed with relief.
"Well, you've done it now," Temari complained happily, glaring openly at her teammate that studiously avoided her gaze. "You're going to have to breath for the both of you until the idiot here can figure out how to undo this damn jutsu."
Shikamaru only nodded, the weight of filling two sets of lungs with air making it too difficult to answer verbally. Temari turned back to TenTen fully, inspecting her one time opponent's injuries seemingly satisfied that for at least the moment TenTen would live. Shikamaru had been propping himself up on one elbow to see, but now that things looked to be under control, he allowed himself to fall onto his back so that he could more fully concentrate on breathing deeply and smoothly.
"What the fuck did he do to piss her off?" Temari asked with a light chuckle, nudging Shikamaru's shoulder just slightly. "I'm glad she wasn't this good when I fought her."
Having no idea what Temari was talking about, Shikamaru looked over at his girlfriend and then followed her gaze over to the left. There stood, if you could call it standing, was Shikamaru's attacker that would probably remain forever unnamed. Shikamaru had seen TenTen release all of her weapons, he knew for a fact that in those last moments of battle that his teammate had exhausted every tool at her disposal, but what he saw before him belied all that.
The man had been run through with more weapons than Shikamaru thought was humanly possible, but when the ANBU captain looked with a more critical eye he saw that the man wasn't impaled on weapons per-se but shards of gleaming steel in the shape of spears, staves, and swords. What made the difference obvious to his eyes was the lack of any other material. There was no wood or cloth, just pure metal that seemed to emerge directly from the earth before going through their victim holding the man upright.
"Remind me to stay on her good side from now on," Temari quipped splitting her attention between Shikamaru and TenTen now that her teammate had gone for help.
"So what are you saying, Shikamaru?" Lady Tsunade asked, her arms crossed in front of her regarding her shinobi skeptically.
"All I'm saying is that one minute that guy had me by the collar and the next he was a pin cushion," Shikamaru replied with a shrug. "I know I didn't do it and it wasn't Temari or Shiro."
"Come in Shizune," the Hokage directed, walking away from Shikamaru and reclaiming her seat behind the cracked desk.
"What happened?" Shizune asked as she handed over a couple of files looking down disapprovingly at the broken furniture.
"This is an ANBU file. Where is TenTen's medical chart?" Tsunade-sama questioned, ignoring her assistant's inquiry.
"It's in there," Shizune replied, letting the Fifth Hokage slide for the moment. "But I think you'll find the ANBU file of interest."
Lady Tsunade frowned but opened the yellowed and ink stained file. As soon as the cover was opened it drew her full attention.
"How is she?" Shikamaru couldn't help but ask. He and TenTen had arrived in the Leaf Village only a few hours ago with their Suna escort. Once Tsunade-sama had been able to undo most of the jutsu connecting him and TenTen, Shikamaru's teammate had been rushed away for surgery and he had been brought here for questioning.
"Everything should be fine, but we won't know for sure until she wakes up if there will be any brain damage due to lack of oxygen."
Shikamaru nodded his understanding, unable to ask anymore questions. They stood in silence as the Hokage read over the file, her face betraying nothing. Shikamaru was beginning to become antsy when Lady Tsunade spoke.
"Pure steel you say and a bolt of lightening?" she asked seemingly randomly.
"From what I could see yes, but Temari did bring a piece with us, if you want to look at it yourself," Shikamaru answered.
"Steel is fire tempered iron, it makes perfect sense," Tsunade-sama mumbled thoughtfully.
Minutes passed and Shikamaru tried to resist the urge to interrupt the silence. Not only had he been here for hours being questioned, he was anxious to see how TenTen was doing with his own eyes.
"Lady Tsunade?" Shizune asked, gaining the Hokage's attention. "Is there anything else you need?"
Shikamaru didn't miss the quick look Shizune had shot in his direction, and was grateful for her intervention.
"Yes, get me Kakashi and the weapon that Shikamaru brought back," Tsunade-sama said quickly before adding, "And get me Maito Gai and any other medical records you have on TenTen and her family, no matter how old."
Slightly alarmed at the sudden intensity on TenTen, Shikamaru stepped forward, but never got a chance to ask any questions.
"You're dismissed and on leave until further notice, Nara."
It was on his tongue to argue, but the Hokage dismissed him with a wave of her hand as she returned to reading the file in front of her. Shizune pushed on his elbow to get him moving, and once the office doors were closed behind them Shikamaru turned to the woman beside him.
"Where is she?"
Shikamaru didn't bother to ask about the file, he knew that Shizune couldn't answer his questions anyway, but that wouldn't stop him from finding out later, right now he had a teammate to thank once she woke up.
I thrive on constructive criticism and cookies, not flames.
This chapter's song, Shikamaru
Within Temptation : Dark Wings Lyrics
Why was I one of the chosen ones?
Into the fight I could not see
The magic and the strength of my power
It was beyond my wildest dreams
Dark wings they are descending
See shadows gathering around
One by one they are falling
Every time they try to strike us down
Don't you die on me
You haven't made your peace
Live life, breathe, breathe
Don't you die on me
You haven't made your peace
Live life, breathe, breathe
Dark wings they are descending
See shadows gathering around
One by one they are falling
Every time they try to strike us down
As they took your soul away
The night turned into the day
Blinded by your rays of life
Gave us the strength we needed
Dark wings they are descending
See shadows gathering around
One by one they are falling
Every time they try to strike us
Dark wings they are descending
See shadows gathering around
One by one they are falling
Every time they try to strike us down