Notes: Ah-HAH! I'm not one hundred percent sure, but I may have squeaked in under the deadline for the contest. Maybe. Ah well, it was fun to write anyway. This is all a bit rushed and I resorted to the old 'talking about what happened in the past tense while other stuff is going on now' trick (I'm sure there's an official word for that, but I can't remember it). I mostly just wanted to write the end scene. Is it sad that I thought that up on Valentine's Day? It's sort of the anti-romantic scene. I think. Whatever, it was fun to write. Go check out the Shino/Tenten forum for the other contest entries!

Goals: Coherent, interesting, plausible ending; with a side order of fluff.

Warnings: Mildly adult situation at the end. Oh, and death.

Part 3

It was a good plan, until it failed.

Tenten had worked diligently to craft the required two hundred short knives within the month period. It wasn't so difficult, once she'd worked out the right alloy ratios and made a handful of good, solid molds. The only really tricky part had been incorporating the small, complex sigil on the base of every blade. She could pass the symbols off as her personal signature, but in reality they were a carefully constructed, complicated seal that she and Shino had designed together. When the blades were cooled, hardened, and sharpened, Shino would add a special compound that Aburame kikkai could locate from miles away but was nearly undetectable by any other creature. With just a small infusion of both their chakra (his to activate the chemical, hers to seal it into the metal), the two hundred illegal knives would become instant beacons for any Aburame. No matter where the blades went in the world, the Leaf could track them – and those that bought and distributed them.

"You know, this will bring down more than just the Blue Torch," Tenten had commented excitedly, watching Shino infuse the first dozen blades with the chemical. "Depending on where these blades end up, we could be busting dozens of little black market syndicates and smuggling chains."

Shino had nodded. "This was a fortuitous mission for Konoha," he said, handing her a marked blade. "Why? We will gain a reputation for large scale operations involving several countries and clients, illustrating our power, resources, and our long reach."

"And it'll make us enemies," Tenten had added with slightly less enthusiasm. "Lots of enemies. But hey," she'd perked up, "it's a good plan, right? So I'm not too worried."

Shino had looked at her for a long moment, then turned and walked out the forge door to report to the gang leader he currently obeyed. "No plan survives contact with the enemy."

That had been only a week into her month-long time limit, and the only time they had spoken explicitly about their plan to bring down the Blue Torch's primary means of money (and thus, power). Yesterday, Tenten had finished the last of the two hundred blades, just as that Blue Torch official (she'd only just restrained herself from calling him "Cobby" to his face) had slunk back in, demanding them. They were early, of course, by two full days. Had Tenten really been just a weaponsmith on a time-limit, she would not have been prepared. But Shino had warned her ahead of time, and anyway she'd been expecting this sort of trick. So she'd finished a day earlier, patiently pretended to be the outraged but frightened craftsman forced to do bad work in the name of greed, and watched quite happily as Cobby and his bulky henchmen trundled off with two hundred marked illegal goods.

Shino had waited until this morning to head into the northern end of town where a relay was set up to signal the waiting Aburame down south. They would pick up the wagonload of knives as soon as it exited the mountains and follow it to wherever the Blue Torch took their goods to sell, and then they would wait until the blades had been distributed to the customers. Once the blades were sold, the Aburame trackers would call in the backup teams, and it would only be a matter of cleanup. Of course, Tenten planned to be well away from the Glacier Country by then, snug and warm back in Konoha. As soon as Shino came back from the relay point, they would pack up their gear and vanish. The Blue Torch wouldn't look for them for a couple days at least, and by then the shipment would be too far for them to recall even if they did suspect something was wrong with it. Tenten smiled a little to herself as she scrubbed down the forge (no sense leaving it a mess for the next real weaponsmith to make it up here, right?); she was proud of their plan. Sure, Shino had come up with most of it, but he couldn't have pulled it off without her. He'd practically said as much one night, when she'd been grousing about the tedium of sharpening each blade when they were only going to be confiscated and destroyed.

Tenten was trying to remember exactly what he'd said after that – something about how he'd asked for her specifically because she understood the value of using the right tool – when the forge door burst open. "You!" a voice pitched with fear and anger yelled at her. Cold wind blasted against her exposed skin, but Tenten's attention was focused on the figure running straight for her, arms outstretched and eyes wide. She stepped forward, bracing her feet and slamming her palms into his shoulders, stopping his forward momentum neatly.

"Easy," she said, steadying him. "Now, what's going on?"

The boy Kam looked up at her with a confused expression of anger and fear. "Didja do it?" He demanded. "Didja tell those damn scorchers about the shipment? 'Cause if you did, Boss Yan's gonna ice you. He's gonna chew you up an' spit you out an' leave you to freeze." His young face twisted suddenly into an oddly desperate expression. "Didja do it?"

In the back of Tenten's head, she was already listing the things she would need to grab to survive in the snow and mentally discarding what was unnecessary. The route home through the mountain pass would be clear until sunset, about two hours away. If she and Shino moved quickly, they could possibly get through it before the nightly snow storms closed it off. Shino was out in town still, but she might be able to reach him before Blue Torch thugs came for her. All this buzzed in her head, but her face and voice stayed pleasant and calm. "What are you talking about?" She asked. "Slow down and explain."

"Someone robbed the wagon, 'fore it even got through the pass," Kam jerked away from her grip and started pacing around the forge, tugging on his head scarf and gloves in a nervous, distracted way. "They took all the mahkaira," he slowed down a moment to say the word properly, a hint of pride in his voice, "and killed the guards and man, oh man, Boss Yan's gone frigid"

Tenten looked at him for a moment, noting the unusual paleness of his face and the little quiver in his voice. Most telling of all was the way his hand kept creeping back towards his pocket, where Tenten knew he kept the mahkaira she'd given him carefully hidden. He's worried about me, she thought, and then amended it to, he's worried for me.

"Kam," she said quietly, stepping forward and catching his arm as he paced by. "Why would you think I had anything to do with this?"

"They shouldn'ta known!" He burst out. "Boss Yan thinks it was those blasted Tarfeather Gang assholes down south who heard about the shipment, and they've wanted to take our turf for ages. But the wagon was supposed to go out tomorrow, and we shipped early so no one could set up an ambush but they figured it out." He stopped to catch his breath, and he shot her that look of desperation again, and she realized that the kid was mentally willing her not to be the betrayer, the one who had turned on his gang.

You're too young to be mixed up in this shit, Tenten thought with a surge of anger and sadness. You're too young to be afraid that every new person who becomes your friend is actually an enemy just trying to infiltrate the only family you probably have. And you're way too young, she added bitterly, to be right.

"And you think I told the Tarfeathers about the change in plan?" She asked, reaching back and picking up her combat gloves where they'd been warming by the forge fire.

Now Kam just looked miserable, a kid huddled in his too-large coat and hoping the world wasn't as bad as he feared it might be. "Didja?" he asked in a small voice.

"I've never heard of the Tarfeathers," Tenten told him honestly, hating herself a little as the relief spread across his features.

"I knew you were on the burner," he said triumphantly. "Don't worry, I'll tell Boss Yan for you. Him an' me, we're like this," he held up a gloved hand and made a clumsy attempt to cross his fingers. "I'll tell 'im you aren't mixed up in this."

"Oh, but I think she is, Kam," Boss Yan said serenely from the doorway, hands clasped in front of his broad chest in a seal. "She certainly no simple weaponsmith, anyway."

"What d'you mean, Boss - "

Kam's question cut off in a yelp of surprise and pain as Boss Yan spat a stream of sharp, glittering icicles at Tenten. One sharp, frozen edge sliced through the boy's shoulder enroute, leaving a deep bloody cut. But Tenten slammed into him a moment before another icicle could cut through his throat, throwing him to ground and rolling clear of his flailing arms in one smooth motion.

"He's one of yours," she accused, sinking into a crouch and summoning a handful of kunai. "You could have killed him."

Boss Yan merely smiled pompously. "It hardly matters," he settled into a new stance and raised his hands into another seal, "Shinobi."

On the floor, Tenten heard Kam give a little gasp of confusion and hurt, but then she had to duck to avoid another frozen salvo. She hurtled the kunai at Boss Yan, forcing the big man back, and screamed over her shoulder, "Run!"

Distantly she heard Kam curse, heard the mad scraping of his gloves and knees on the ground as he scrambled to get across the forge floor and outside. But most of her attention was on Boss Yan, and the wave after wave of sharp frozen daggers he kept pitching at her. He was good too – those big muscles might only be for show, but his aim was very precise and very fast.

Unfortunately for him, Tenten was faster. She pulled free a concealed scroll even as she ran up the forge wall, snapped it open as she flipped upside down and pushed off, and spinning expertly through the air, sent a wave of shuriken at him. Boss Yan jumped back, sending a matching wave of icicles out to smash each shuriken from the air midway. Tenten twisted her face away from him and covered her head just as the ice met steel.

BOOM! The cold of the icicles activated the small temperature-triggered explosives she'd attached to the shuriken, and the multiple minor explosions combined into one huge shock wave that sent her sailing towards the back wall and threw Boss Yan backwards out into the snow. Tenten tapped the wall to change her direction and launched herself out after him, summoning a short scythe as she went and using her momentum to swing the blade in an arc around her body. Boss Yan rolled frantically away as she rocketed towards his large chest, but the edge of the scythe caught him across the back of the head and sent him crashing with a scream back to the frozen ground.

Tenten landed a few feet away, feet kicking up a spray of snow until she slid to a halt. She held the bloody scythe up defensively, watching Boss Yan stumble back to his feet. Blood poured down the big man's back, but he'd avoided the brunt of the blow. She hadn't managed to sever his spine or slice any major arteries. He lumbered around to face her, small eyes glaring at her balefully as he raised his huge hands again. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it with a snap and merely twisted his hands into a seal. Tenten was already moving, flinging the scythe at him in a deadly spinning arc and drawing two long daggers. Boss Yan smashed away the scythe with another icicle, but then Tenten was on him, running lightly up his chest and slicing down with both blades as she flipped over his head to land behind him. Quicker than she expected, he summoned a spear of ice from the ground beside them and blocked her daggers, twisting his large body sharply to get her out of his blind spot and stab at her with the spear end.

She dodged, but her foot caught on the edge of a hidden patch of ice under the snow and slipped an inch. She caught herself instantly and slashed again with the blades, but in the half second she was unbalanced, he jabbed the spear forward and caught her just along the inside of her left arm. She felt a brief sting as the frozen spearhead cut through her sleeve and left a shallow red line of fire against her skin. Then she parried the spear away and danced in closer, inside the spear's range, blades whirling and flashing in the weak afternoon sunlight.

Boss Yan slammed the spear down at her head, forcing her to block with one blade. With a twist of his wrists, he jammed the spear against the sharp edge of the long dagger and neatly cut his ice spear in half. Now, like her, he had a deadly short range weapon in either hand, and his blows were slightly slower but also slightly stronger. Time to redefine the fight, Tenten decided. She threw herself forward and dropped to her knees, sliding neatly on the snow right under his next swing. He turned to follow her with both ice blades, but Tenten rolled forward and lashed backwards with one foot, catching a solid blow to his leg. The big gangster stumbled, and Tenten leaped up the side of the forge, perching on the roof. Now she had distance and the high ground, and she took advantage of both. She pulled out another small, concealed scroll and swiped her bloody finger along it, focusing her will and calling. Then she threw the scroll up into the air, over Boss Yan's head.

The gangster roared as six large, dark shapes burst out of the scroll and angled down at him. He threw up his hands and tried to send six corresponding icicles back, but the thin, sharp icicles were no match for the heavy, reinforced blades of Tenten's dadao greatswords. The monstrous steel blades shattered the icicles in passing and buried themselves - with a series of loud, wet, thumps - into the body of Boss Yan. The big man slumped, but the swords held him more or less propped up on a grisly sort of tripod, kneeling in the streets as the snow beneath him slowly stained red.

Tenten took a deep breath. Shino, she thought hazily. I have to get to Shino. He must have heard the boom, though, she thought as she jumped off the roof to the ground below. He should have been here within minutes of hearing that –

Her foot caught another patch of ice as she landed, and she slammed to the ground on her hands and knees, gasping in surprise. "Careful!" she admonished herself out loud, and then giggled. "Talk to myself," she explained to the corpse nearby. "Nobody to hear. Nobody here."

She giggled again, then cut it off sharply.

Something's wrong with me, she realized. My legs are really cold. "That's because I'm still kneeling in snow," she said aloud, or tried to. The words sounded strange to her ears, like mumbling or another language. What the hell…?

Red. Something was red by her hand. Her hand was bleeding…no, not hand, arm. Arm's cut, she thought dispassionately. Not bad. Feel kind of funny though.

She looked at the shallow cut on her arm. She looked at the silent, immobile body a few feet away. She looked at her arm again. My arm's numb, she thought fuzzily. And then, oh. Oh, I get it. She flailed, stumbling to her feet and staggering over to the propped up body.

"You bastard," she addressed the corpse, in as clear a voice as she could manage. Somewhere nearby, someone was shrieking, in a high-pitched girly voice. Tenten squinted in the direction she thought it was coming from, but all she could see was white and white and white and red and white. Someone in blurry white clothes was nearby, still shrieking, but Tenten had no time for that. "Shino," she told the shrieking person. "Gotta find Shino."

The person shrieked something more at her, jabbing a hand - hands? Too many hands, Tenten stopped trying to count and focused again on the face, only there was no face, just a scarf and screaming. "It's poison," she said, conversationally. "Not deadly, just disorienting. I think. Shino will know." Her words sounded slurred and funny, like someone with a deeper voice was trying to talk in hers, but they didn't know the language that well either. I sound slurry and funny, she thought. Slunny? Flurry? Hah.

"Gotta find Shino," she told the screamer. "It's furry."

The person screamed again, jabbing all those fingers. Tenten stepped away, slipping in the snow again. Slippery stuff, snow. White. Wet. And cold. She was really cold again. No fire, though. No Shino. "Shino," she said again, trying to get through to the screamer. But just noise, more finger jabbing, her ears hurt now. She turned around to look behind her, where the jabbing fingers were pointing. Maybe they were pointing at Shino?

White and white and white. But no red. She would go where there was no red. Maybe Shino would be there. She had to find him for…something. Something important. He could help her, that was it. Help her…help her….hmmm, she thought. Lost of things he could help with. Get me warmed up, that's for damn sure. She grinned, then stumbled on something white and white and…brown. Tree root, she thought vaguely. When did there get to be trees in the streets around here? But the screaming had stopped, anyway. That was nice. It had stopped awhile ago, hadn't it? She wasn't sure. Didn't matter. Her legs were cold. Her arms were cold. The cut on her arm hurt most, stinging and stinging like bees. She didn't like bees much, just then. But that's what she needed Shino for. He could make the bees stop stinging. He could…

She was so cold.

Something white reached out and grabbed at her feet again, and she struggled to avoid it, but the white reached up and wrapped itself all around her legs and waist and she floundered in it like a drowning woman in the sea but she was cold and tired now, and her arm was stinging and burning and she was starting to feel sick now, too. The wind was picking up, slicing into her cheeks and neck like blades, cutting through her clothes ruthlessly. Only her legs were spared, but that was because they were encased in white. Tenten stared down at her legs, buried up to her waist in white and it was cold, very cold, but not as cold as the knives in the air.

She leaned down unsteadily and dug at the white with her aching fingers. After a few minutes, her fingers stopped aching. That was nice. But her hands weren't her hands anymore, they must be someone else's hands because she couldn't feel them attached to her arms. And her arms weren't really her arms either, except that little patch on the left that just kept stinging away.

After awhile, she dug far enough down that the sharp wind didn't cut her, and all around her was white and white and white.

She curled up, feeling the cold slowly fading away, feeling her body detach itself from her piece by piece. A few inches away, the knives cut through the wind and the sky grew darker. The cold started to go away in other parts of her body, except the cold must be taking her body parts with it because they were going away too. Her hips were gone, and her shoulders, and her cheeks and her throat and soon, her whole face was gone. Tenten tried to close her eyes, but she couldn't tell if she had or not, she couldn't feel them open or closed. And either way, all she could see was white and white and white…

Tenten floated in the whiteness.

An arm was flung out next to her. Distantly, she thought, that was mine. Now the whiteness had claimed it.

Except there was something black on it. Something small, and shiny, and black. It moved. Oh, thought Tenten. There you are. A little late though, she decided as the white began to leech into her mind and claim that, too. The stinging had stopped awhile ago.

Tenten woke up warm.

It took her awhile to process this knowledge, however. First she had to process that there was a body capable of warmth. Then she had to work out that this body was actually hers, and she was once again fully attached to it. Only once she'd reconciled herself to those facts could she then realize that she, in her body, was warm.

After that, things snapped into focus a little more quickly.

"Be still," Shino said from somewhere just above her head. "I will not hurt you."

She stopped struggling against the body that had her practically pinned to the ground and relaxed, willing her heartbeat to decelerate. "Sorry," she mumbled against his shirt. "Thought I was trapped."

"You were," he said calmly. "I found you almost buried in the snow almost two miles outside the village."

"Guess I went the wrong way," she mumbled, then, finally, opened her eyes.

They were back in the forge, wrapped up in all their blankets and coats in front of the roaring fire. Outside, Tenten could hear the wailing of the nightly storm winds against the reinforced walls. "How long?" she managed after a moment.

"Only a few hours," he replied. "How have you recovered so quickly? I've been using my own chakra and some of the emergency revival pills on you." He paused, then added in a strange tone she couldn't quite decipher, "I had to use my chakra to force your heart to start beating again."

"Oh," Tenten felt a faint flush in her cheeks, but she pressed her face against his chest where he couldn't see it. Then a little light went on in her brain. Shino wasn't wearing his overjacket. Or his underjacket, for that matter. Both were wrapped around her, as were his arms. Tenten was pressed against his thick, black shirt, which, while not exactly revealing anything more than his coats normally did, was still the least amount of clothing she'd ever seen him wear. And curled up against his chest with one leg wedged between his (yup, she could feel it there, while her other leg was holy shit, draped over his hip) definitely not respecting his space.

Tenten hesitated for a moment, uncertain how to react to this startling discovery. But hell, he'd put her there, right? And she was warmer than she'd been since she'd entered this frigid country. So she simply sighed a little and snuggled in closer, waiting to see how he would respond. As far as she could tell, he didn't.

"I killed Boss Yan," she told him. "We'll have to get out of here as soon as the storm clears."

"Yes," he replied, and Tenten took a moment to enjoy the sensation of feeling his voice against her skin. "Our plan was siderailed," he went on after a moment. "How so? A rival gang robbed the shipment, and made off with the knives before our scouts could intercept the wagon."

"We can still track 'em down," she murmured sleepily, feeling the warmth wrapping around her and pulling her back into comfortable sleep. "We'll still get a bunch of the black markets an' stuff."

"But the Blue Torch Council will get away," Shino said, and she could practically hear his frown. "In that objective, this mission failed."

"Sorry," she mumbled again.

"It is not your fault," he said sharply, shifting his body slightly. Tenten loosened her grip, expecting him to pull away, but after a brief pause, he merely resettled his arm under her head. Almost absently, his other hand ran up her back and back down again, tugging his coat into place around her shoulders. Tenten suppressed the little shudder of pleasure his dragging fingers sent racing down her spine and tried to pay strict attention to his words instead. "I should have had a backup for this possibility built into the plan," he was saying. "Or at the least, you should have had better warning before Boss Yan reached you."

"I did have warning, sort of," she told him. "Kam came screaming in here to tell me…" She trailed off as Shino stiffened, and she mentally reviewed his words. "Wait, "better" warning? You sent Kam to me, didn't you?"

"No," he said. "I merely made certain that he spent a great deal of time around Boss Yan."

"Knowing that the kid liked me, and would probably do exactly what he did if he thought I was in trouble with the gang." She twisted her head to look up at him. "I don't know if I think that's brilliant or just really manipulative." Shino said nothing, but up this close and without his collar, she could see the slight downward twist at the corners of his mouth. "Thanks, though," she added, and the tension in his face eased.

"So what happened to Kam?" She asked, unwilling suddenly to just drift back into sleep.

"He came back to me," he said. "He told me that he had seen you wandering off to the west, stumbling and talking to yourself. Which was fortunate, because I do not believe I would have picked up your trail in time without his direction."

"So he did stay and watch the fight," she said sadly. "I had hoped he wouldn't. That must have been him yelling."

Shino's arms tightened around her back. "Yelling?"

"Yeah. When the poison started to kick in, I was really out of it, but I remember someone screaming and pointing at me. That was why I went out into the snow," She said after a moment's thought. "I think I asked the person where you were, or thought I did, and they were pointing that way so, that's the way I went. I'm not sure what Kam - "

"Kam was not the one who directed you into the wilderness," Shino cut her off. "He came to find me almost as soon as Boss Yan was dead. He was afraid to come near you because you were…behaving oddly. But he did not approach nor speak to you."

"Oh," Tenten blinked. "Then who - ?"

"Yula," Shino said, in a voice so low she wouldn't have heard had she not been only a few inches from his mouth.


"She was here," Shino explained in a suddenly flat, cold tone. "When Kam and I arrived. She claimed not to have seen you, that she had only just arrived and found her uncle dead. There was something off about her behavior, but I was more concerned with…other things at the time."

Tenten thought about this for awhile. Then, carefully, she said, "She's just a kid. And she probably wasn't actually trying to kill me or anything."

"She could have told me which way you went," Shino replied in that same flat, cold voice. Tenten wasn't a huge fan of the simpering fangirl either, but there was something brutal and condemning in Shino's voice that made her feel sorry for the girl.

"She's just a kid," Tenten said softly, reaching up one hand to touch Shino's cheek. "And it doesn't matter anyway. Not anymore." Shino, who had gone stock still when Tenten's fingers brushed his face, suddenly pulled back a few inches in order to look fully in her face. Tenten blinked up at her reflection in his black lenses and struggled to hide the uncertainty his scrutiny caused. "Right?" She asked after a long, uncomfortable pause.

"Hm," he grunted softly, but Tenten decided to take that as agreement.

"Okay then," she murmured, well aware that she was very close to Shino's face now, and well, about as close as one could get to his body with clothes on.

Oh, great, she thought. Perfect timing for that thought. Now her face was definitely flushed, and her heart had started to accelerate again. Well, he's attractive, she defended herself mentally. And interesting, and a good shinobi, and he's taken great care of me all throughout this mission, and I bet that as much fun as he'd be to spar with, he'd probably be more fun to kiss. If he let me.

Would he let me?

Only one way to find out.

And because it seemed like a good idea at the time, Tenten raised her head and pressed her lips against his.

Shino didn't move, didn't even seem to breathe. Tenten pulled back a fraction of an inch, then before she could think about it too much she leaned up again, this time a little more insistently. Maybe he just needed a moment to catch up to current events…

But he still wasn't reacting in the slightest. It was like kissing someone when they were asleep or unconscious. Or possibly dead, she thought with just a hint of resentment. She still couldn't even tell if he was breathing.

Shino pulled away. He did it slowly but definitely, as if he were trying to be polite about it.

Tenten stared at him for a moment. Then, in a small voice that she hated to hear come from her own mouth, said, "Sorry." She turned her face down (anything not to see the emotionless rejection on his) and started carefully to detangle herself from him.

Shino's arms and legs clamped down on her like iron, holding her in place. Tenten jumped and looked back up at him, half startled and half angry. What was his deal? Her eyes narrowed as he opened his mouth to speak; if he told her that she needed to stay where she was for the sake of her injuries or for warmth or anything, she was going to knock him halfway across the Glacier Country and then some. Damned if she would lay there wrapped up around him like a lover if he wasn't even slightest bit interested –

"Not yet," Shino said quietly. "And not like this."

Tenten stared at him. "Uh…what?"

"Relationships that are built solely on extreme circumstances such as this," Shino told her in a calm, slightly lecturing tone, "rarely succeed. And I know that neither you nor I are interested in a relationship based purely on physical proximity and battle relief."

"Battle relief," she repeated dumbly. That was a term they taught genin at the Academy; it was what many shinobi felt after a close brush with death, and had lead to many "inappropriate relations" between the shinobi involved. Tenten had once called it "hooray, we're still alive! sex" to her team, and had spent about an hour laughing at the bright red blush on Lee's face and the harassed expression on Neji's.

So Shino thought she was just reacting to the relief of still being alive by jumping the first available man? Well, that was totally insulting and presumptuous and…possibly just a tiny bit true.

Where he went wrong was the 'first available man' part. But she was in no mood to clarify that for him. At least not right now. Besides, he was still talking.

"However, relationships that start in extreme circumstances and are then pursued once things have settled into a more normal routine can do quite well, if time and care are given to them," Shino was saying, and without warning he ran his hand up her back and down again. This time Tenten didn't manage to hide the little shiver, and from the sudden quirk of his lips she knew he had felt it. Was he playing with her now? She wondered with a surge of anger. "Perhaps, then, this discussion may be continued at a later date. Because I believe that in the long run - "

"You don't have to spare my feelings, you know," Tenten cut him off in a harsher voice than she'd intended. Mentally she winced; she was not hiding her emotions very well. Get a grip, she ordered herself. There's no need to make this ugly. He doesn't want you, get over it. You can still work together, and maybe be friends. Distant friends. Be polite. "If you don't want me, then you don't want me," she told him bluntly. "I'll get over it."

Oh wonderful, she thought. Very diplomatic. Tenten, you moron.

The silence stretched between them for a long moment, and then Shino took a deep breath. Tenten tried not to resent the feel of his chest pushing against hers as she simultaneously tried not to enjoy it. She ended up failing miserably at both. Damn.

"I see," Shino said at last, very softly.

And then he was kissing her like his life depended on it. Tenten flinched in surprise, tried to pull back, but his hand came up and tangled in her hair, and his other hand was trailing up her back, down her side, around the swell of her hip, and his mouth was so warm and wet and demanding –

I don't know what you want in the long run, she thought hazily, but this, at least, I understand.

Tenten gave in, kissing him back just as fiercely. She brushed her own hand up his ribs and around to the back of his neck, tracing a little pattern on the skin there with her fingertips, smiling mentally when the sensation made his breath catch slightly. She rolled her body against his next, delighting in the low, soft grunt he made in response. But before she could try anything else, he pulled away again, reaching up and catching her hand with his own and gently pulling it from his neck. He left his legs locked around hers, but he pulled his body back and away slightly, enough so that they were not pressed together, putting a few inches of space between.

Tenten allowed him to fold her hand against his chest, and she watched him through her eyelashes as he leaned his forehead against hers and took another long, deep breath. His face was as carefully controlled as ever, but his fingers were tight around hers and she could feel his heart racing under her other hand, still curled up against his chest.

"Okay," she said eventually. He lifted his head to look at her, waiting, and she laughed once, quietly. "Okay." She took a deep breath of her own, closing her eyes and relaxing into the blissfully warm cocoon of blankets, jackets, and body heat by the forge fire. Outside, the wind howled and clawed at the walls, but it would die out soon enough. The sun would rise, the day would begin, and they had a long, long way to go.

Tenten smiled. "We'll get there," she told him.

He brushed his lips against her forehead lightly, then she felt him settle back, still a few inches away but holding on to her nonetheless.