A/N: This is an entry to a Shino/Tenten Winter contest at Rel's request. Please note that, although Neji is mentioned, he is not portrayed in a very flattering way. If you want positive Neji moments, check out my other story, 'Heart Broken', wherein Neji is very heroic.
That said: I do not own Naruto.
Snow Storm: Part One
It was a relief to be heading home. It always was. There was something about traveling back to the familiar Land of Fire and Konoha Village that made any journey so much more enjoyable. Especially after a month-long mission involving endless meetings and negotiations.
Or at least that's what she thought.
She had no idea what her companion's feelings were on the subject.
He was even more taciturn then her usual teammate, Huuga Neji, if that could be believed. Maybe taciturn wasn't the right word. Shut-down? Closed off?
Or maybe, behind the layered shields of high-collar, shadowed hood and wrap-around sunglasses, Shino was really displaying a wildly varying range of emotions.
Tenten snickered a little at the thought.
Wouldn't it be funny, she thought, as she sped along just behind her silent companion, if his glasses fell off and his hood fell back and he was revealed to be tear-stained and grimacing in grief? Or grinning broadly with his eyes spinning in hilarious circles? Or-
"Storm," murmured Shino.
"Hunh?" she said, squinting towards the vee of sky that could be seen ahead between the mountain pass. What had been a wintry pale blue was now dark with heavy grey snow-laden clouds.
"Uh-oh," she muttered, "Do you think we'll make it through the pass before it hits?"
"Hnh," grunted Shino, adding more Chakra to his feet, "Possibly."
Tenten increased her pace to match his and they raced through the stony pass silently.
There were stories about people getting caught in the mountains in the Land of Snow. Very few of them ended well. Tenten had no intention of adding a tale about her untimely death to that list.
They made it to the opening on other side of the pass just as the first flakes started. Shino consulted an oil-cloth map. He pointed to a small kanji symbol for 'ruin'.
"We should get shelter," he said curtly. He didn't wait for Tenten's nod of agreement, taking off along the perilous pathway through some scrubby pines. Tenten followed closely.
It became a race between them and the snow and the snow was definitely winning.
They almost missed the tumble-down structure. It was Tenten who noticed the chigi, the distinctive cross-beams, at one corner of the abandoned shrine, making a dark X against the blowing snow. She grabbed Shino and pointed it out.
They struggled to get in, using a precious amount of their dwindling Chakra stores to move the foot or more of snow away in order to pull one side of the massive door open enough to slip in.
Once in, they secured the door with the enormous wooden latch that was still surprisingly intact. They leaned wearily against the wood, resting for a moment in the eerie stillness of the shrine.
Tenten pulled a flashlight from her pack and shone it around, moving cautiously around the perimeter of the structure.
The building was small and smelled strongly of mold. It was built in the usual style, with a central raised altar at one end holding a stone carving of a woman, probably Amaterasu Ômikami, the Sun Goddess. She was flanked on either side by worn stone statues of local gods, sai no kami, guarding the mountain borders and protecting travelers. Stone bowls sat in front of each deity, waiting in vain for offerings.
A light flared to one side of her and she turned to see that Shino had activated a larger lithium lamp and was heading around the other wall.
She stepped carefully around some rubble where a wall sagged and some of the roof had buckled inward. Torn branches and other debris filled in the break naturally, although some snow had trickled in to form a slight drift. Camping on this side would be too drafty. She walked further towards the altar, hoping to find a better spot where they could rig a tent and start a fire.
She was shuddering with cold and exhaustion and the light trembled in her hand. From the rather erratic movement of the light on Shino's side, he was no better off. They really needed to get some food and rest or they would be in a sad fix.
She stopped at the center of the altar, waiting for Shino to join her. She looked up at the serene face of the Goddess, the stone smooth and smiling. Whoever had carved her had done so lovingly, giving her a beauty that was really astonishing.
Without thought, Tenten tucked her flashlight under her arm. She brought her hands together and bowed twice to the Goddess. She clapped her hands and bowed again, thanking the Kami for bringing her and Shino into safety. In the cold feeble light of the lithium lamp, the Goddess seemed to smile warmly and her eyes winked.
"Man," mumbled Tenten, giving herself a mental shake, "I'm more tired than I thought."
Shino joined her and made his own obeisance to the Goddess. He looked up at the stone face intently for a moment.
"There's a small room behind the altar," he said, pointing over to the right corner, "It will be a good place to set up a camp."
"Okay," said Tenten, following him.
He led her past the smaller statue and turned into a low doorway.
Tenten glanced at the little statue and was startled to see the grin of a monkey flashing in the dim light. She stumbled and fell into Shino's back, nearly knocking him down. He stopped, bent over, reaching one arm back to hold her.
"Sorry!" she said, hastily righting herself, "Sorry, I tripped. Damn, this place is kind of creepy."
He grunted. He stood up and held out a hand for her.
She frowned for a moment. Did he think she was helpless?
Still, it was dark and the floor was uneven. Probably safer to stick together.
She took his hand. She was surprised at its warmth as his long fingers wrapped around her shorter ones. She suddenly felt better, grateful for the support.
Shino led the way, ducking under the lintel of the door. He stepped carefully down into a small room that had probably been the resident priest's home. There was a small fire pit in the center of the room, with a rusting iron tripod lying across it. To one side of the fire pit was a large stone bench with a channel under it for coals to be placed to keep the bench warm. Two small windows closed with wooden shutters flanked a small door opposite the entrance to the shrine. There was a decaying pile of firewood by this doorway. Enough to get a fire started, although they would have to forage for more soon.
Without speaking, the two set to work setting up a camp.
Tenten pulled the tripod from the fire pit and set it aside. It might be useful for later on, but right now, it was just in the way. She arranged some kindling from her pack around a small explosive tag she'd designed just for this kind of thing. She made a few hand gestures and the tag burst into flame. The kindling caught easily, brightening the room considerably. She added some of the firewood Shino had brought over, building the fire expertly. It was one of her favorite tasks, and no one fought her for it. They were always too grateful for her skills.
She set her pack down on the bench and pulled out a canteen and the cooking kit, filling the teapot and a cooking pot with water and setting them by the fire to heat.
They would have to find some water soon, to replenish what she was using. For now, there was enough to make a decent meal. Well, something to worry about later.
Shino spread their bed rolls on the stone bench, one for the bottom, one for the top. In this kind of weather, they would sleep together to keep warm. Neither thought anything about the arrangement. It was standard procedure for traveling in the cold.
Once the fire was going and the water was beginning to steam, Tenten ceded her place by the fire to Shino. It turned out that he was a much better cook than she was. Somehow he was able to make even the blandest of dehydrated rations into quite tasty fare. Her mouth was already watering at the thought. She watched him for a moment as he pulled small packets from his coat and stirred them into the water.
The smell of beef wafted up and her stomach growled in response.
She took a swig of water just to settle it down.
Time to explore, before she grabbed the pot and poured it down her gullet.
She pulled a concentrated fruit and nut bar from her pack and broke it in two, handing one half to Shino and stuffing the other into her mouth.
"I'm gonna look around," she said, thickly, around the sticky food in her mouth, "See if there's water and more wood."
Shino nodded absently, chewing on his own bar, carefully stirring the pot.
She picked up her flashlight and headed out the other small door.
It was hard to open, the swollen wood dragging on the stone floor. She pulled it hard, digging her feet into the floor and leaning back. She was able to scrape it open part-way, until it stuck. She stepped cautiously out, standing under a wooden portico.
Snow was piled around the entrance, sloping downward. She could just make out some steps leading down from the doorway, hugging a stone wall on the right. To the left was a lean-to butting up to the doorway, filled, she was glad to see, with stacks of firewood. The wood was old and some of it was snow covered, but it would last a long time. They'd be able to melt snow for water, too, so things were looking pretty good if they had to stay for more than a day.
Keeping a hand on the stone wall, Tenten inched her way forward, feeling for the edges of steps with her feet. The snow was deep, and it didn't look like it was stopping soon. Whatever was at the bottom of the steps would have to wait until daylight. She couldn't risk a broken ankle, or worse, slipping on the steps and disappearing into the dark. She turned and carefully shuffled back to the shelter of the portico.
She piled some wood in her arms and headed back into the room, piling the wood near the doorway. She went back for several more armfuls of wood, enough to last the night and some of the day, too. When she thought she had enough, she pushed the door shut and stamped the snow from her feet.
She kicked off her heavy boots, knocking them together to get off the rest of the snow. She padded over to the fire pit, ignoring the cold of the stone through her socks and sat down on the floor by the fire. She pulled off her wet socks and stretched her cold feet out until they dangled dangerously close to the flames, sighing happily.
Shino handed her a steaming mug of tea.
"Thanks," she said, gratefully, sipping the tea. He had laced it with honey, knowing that she would need the calories, and, even though she didn't like sweet tea, it tasted heavenly.
"Kami, that's good," she said, pulling her arms out of the sleeves of her parka and arranging the coat over her shoulders. She looked hopefully at the pot. "That smells delicious. Is it ready yet?"
"Almost," said Shino, moving the pot away from the fire and sprinkling something on top. He portioned out some of the mixture between two camp bowls and handed one to Tenten.
She pulled chopsticks from her pack and handed him a set. After all, he'd made dinner. The least she could do was set the table.
"Itadakimasu!" they said, and dug in.
After several moments of rapturous chewing, Tenten sighed deeply.
"I don't know how you do it, Shino," she said, "but this is definitely the best stew I've ever eaten."
Shino paused, holding his chopsticks in the air, studying her.
At least, she thought he was studying her. Difficult to know for sure, what with the dark glasses and all.
She grinned and saluted him with her chopsticks.
"I'll be your teammate anytime, as long as you do all the cooking!" she said. "You should taste what we have to put up with on our team. Neji has a delicate stomach and can't eat spicy foods. Lee and Gai love spicy foods and collect all different kinds of hot sauces. And I pretty much ruin everything I cook, so I'm banned from food prep. We pretty much survive on instant ramen. Your team is lucky to have you."
"Hmm," said Shino, continuing to eat.
"Yep, it's a sad suppertime around the fire with Team Gai," said Tenten, licking the bowl in between words. "I don't suppose there's anymore?" she looked hopefully at the pot.
Shino held it wordlessly out to her and she grabbed it.
Actually, she snatched it, almost burning her hand. But, dang, she was hungry!
She divided the rest up, giving herself half and topping up Shino's bowl. She shoveled her stew into her mouth, making humming sounds of pleasure. She licked the bowl again, finishing with a loud smack.
"Oh, Kami," she said, "So good!"
She jumped up and pulled on her boots hastily. She took the pot out the back door to fill it with snow. She swished the snow around and threw it out into the dark. She filled it up again packing the snow in tightly, hurrying back to the warmth of the fire. She set the pot of snow next to the fire.
"Any more tea?" she said, her voice bright with hope. Shino silently handed her the teapot and she poured herself a cup.
Shino watched her openly. It was one of the advantages of wearing the dark glasses. He never hesitated to study his companions, finding them almost as interesting as his etymological observations.
He enjoyed watching Tenten, although he was not sure why. She was not as beautiful as Ino, or unusual looking as Sakura, or as curvaceous as Hinata, the other kunoichis in his genin group. She had a fresh confidence that he found very appealing. She moved with a light grace, her slim tom-boyish body supple and elegant. He admired her fierce concentration in battle, her determination to be seen as an equal member of any team she was on, her outstanding knowledge of weapons.
The one draw-back, as far as he could see, was her inability to keep quiet. No matter where they were, she seemed compelled to narrate what was going on, or tell a story, or make a joke. He couldn't understand it.
He was used to chattiness in a team-mate. Kiba suffered from a deep rooted desire to ask questions. Shino had learned to answer as definitively as possible, using simple language, which seemed to satisfy the curious Inuzuka. Hinata, on the other hand, was quiet, painfully so, and there were times when he wished she would speak up and let people know what was on her mind.
No, what he couldn't understand was how Tenten managed her verbosity on the same team as Mighto Gai and Rock Lee. Those two were constantly trumpeting comments in flowery language at the top of their more than average lungs. How did the girl manage to get a word in edgewise?
Shino could only suppose that Tenten kept up her running commentary to Neji, the cold and generally silent Hyuuga clan prodigy. Shino wondered idly, as he watched Tenten gulp down the tea and swish more into her cup, whether Neji listened or tuned her out, as he undoubtedly did with his other teammates.
During their assignment in Snow Country, evaluating the quality of a new weapons smith, Shino had let Tenten take the lead in negotiations with the wily Daimyo's of the area. Her ability to speak easily on a number of subjects, and her air of genuine friendly interest, made her a natural when it came to dealing with the older men. They seemed to be quite taken with her open, flirty style. Her ingenuous demeanor mixed with her shrewd expertise regarding anything with a blade made a devastating combination that resulted in a very lucrative deal that would definitely please the Fire Country councils.
Which made him wonder why he had gotten so annoyed when the Daimyo's younger son had paid her so much attention. Surely, that was why Konoha's Hokage had assigned the mission to them. Still, every time that slimy spoiled brat had whispered in her ear making her laugh, or slipped his arm around her waist making her giggle, or escorted her to the suite Shino shared with her, he had wanted to deck the little punk.
Not at all his usual state of mind.
Right now, she was going on about the success of the trip and how she couldn't wait to show off the tanto blade she had been gifted. She was stretching her pretty feet out to the fire, wriggling her toes in pleasure. He was struck by the delicacy of her high arches and the elegance of her ankles.
"I suppose you will be missing all the attention you received," said Shino, darkly. He shut his mouth with a snap. Where had that come from?
"What?" said Tenten, her enormous chocolate brown eyes widening in surprise, "missing what?"
"Uh," said Shino, mentally smacking himself, "uh-." Oh, this was brilliant.
"What did you mean?" she said, cocking her head to one side and lifting one slim eyebrow.
What did he mean? He wasn't sure.
Fortunately, he didn't have to give her an answer.
The loud clang sounding from the shrine reverberated through the empty space like a gong.
Tenten and Shino jumped to their feet, facing the doorway to their room, hands on weapons and knees flexed.
They stood, battle ready, for a few minutes, listening carefully.
Shino led the way to the door, standing with his hand on the latch. Tenten stood poised on the other side, her back to the jamb, kunai and shuriken in both hands. She nodded at Shino and he pulled the door open, standing behind it.
The dark cavern of the shrine yawned before them, barely illuminated by their cozy fire.
They stepped cautiously out, standing shoulder to shoulder at an angle, scanning the room.
Shino sent kikai out to search the area. He moved carefully to the left as Tenten headed right.
The only sound was that of snow pinging against the building and the barely audible tread of their feet.
Shino stepped around the piled area of debris from the collapse of the roof, noting the deep fall of snow spilling out onto the stone floor. A large branch, its end freshly twisted, hung through the hole in the ceiling. He stopped and contemplated the branch. The kikai circled his head, letting him know that he and Tenten were the only people in the building. He relaxed a little.
Tenten joined him and studied the branch with him.
"Do you think this is what made that noise?" she asked, shivering a little in the cold.
"Possibly," he said, frowning as he saw her pick up a bare foot and rub it against her pant leg.
Without a thought, he picked her up in his arms.
"Hey!" she said, batting at him, "what the hell are you doing?"
"You don't have shoes on. It will be inconvenient if you get sick," he carried her quickly back to the doorway of their little room.
"Oh," she said, dubiously.
It sounded lame to him, too.
"Hey," she said suddenly, "was that snow there before?"
Shino looked where she was pointing. A small drift of snow lay at the base of the monkey statue, looking a little rumpled, almost as if the statue had been covered in it and had shaken the snow off.
The stone figure seemed to hunch a little in the flickering light from their fire.
They shared a look.
They stared at the statue.
They both shook their heads.
Shino carried her quickly into the room and put her on the stone bench. He hurried back to the door and looked out at the statue. He could just make out a thin thread of snow falling onto the statue's head.
Which explained the drift at its stone base.
He shut the door firmly and bolted it.
Tenten fought sleep, enjoying the comfort of the moment.
The stone bench was surprisingly cozy. The coals she had pulled into the channel under the stone really warmed the surface nicely. The down in the sleeping bags captured and wrapped her in the heat. She stretched luxuriously. Her back arched snugly against her teammate.
She snuggled her hips against his rump, smiling a little when she felt him pull away.
He was a funny guy, Shino.
She'd always found him intriguing, mysterious, even. He was obviously intelligent and thoughtful. His teammate, Hyuuga Hinata, had told her that he was always taking the lead during their missions. He'd certainly been a good partner on this one, guarding her back and offering succinct opinions when asked. He was hard to read, though, although she had begun to recognize his moods little.
He'd seemed concerned about her being cold.
What was that all about? Shino picking her up like that?
She wasn't used to someone taking care of her.
Gai and Lee would have seen it as an opportunity for training. Something like, how many times could she run around the shrine before her feet froze, or maybe how many times after her feet froze. Neji wouldn't have noticed. Or, if he did, he would have lectured her sternly on the importance of keeping her socks on, or something like that. He certainly would not have picked her up and carried her to warmth.
It probably should have made her mad. After all, she was pretty tough and didn't need protecting. Maybe that kind of thing worked with Hinata, but she took care of herself. Always had, always would.
Still, it had been kind of nice, romantic, even, to be swept up in Shino's surprisingly strong arms. She hadn't realized how big Shino was before, either. He was taller than Neji, by quite a bit, actually. Taller, even, then Gai-sensei. Not that things like height mattered to her, not at all. Still, she did like tall men.
And it was kind of flattering, knowing that he was looking out for her. Well, she'd been aware of how much he watched over her during their mission. Whenever that Daimyo's creepy son had tried to put the moves on her, Shino had been there, making his presence known. It had been quite a relief, really, allowing her to concentrate on technical matters with the weapons smith, not on how to avoid a case of wandering hands.
What did he mean, anyway? That bit about missing all the attention? He almost sounded annoyed with her. He certainly didn't think that she'd enjoyed the lame sexual banter the pampered son favored, did he? She'd have to ask him in the morning.
She shifted her hips again, snuggling up to her quiet companion.
"Stop," growled Shino.
"Hunh?" she said, shocked by the rush of cold air as Shino sat up suddenly, pulling the top sleeping bag off of her.
"You are pushing me off the bench," said Shino, his voice clipped and cold.
Tenten sat up, too, and looked over at Shino's side of the bench.
There was about an inch of space between him and the edge. She was securely seated in the center of the bench. She sniggered a little.
"Oh, sorry, Shino!" she snorted, "I was just getting comfortable-."
"Move over," he said, shortly.
"Sure, no problem," said Tenten, shifting over to her half of the bench. She lay down again, facing outward. "I'll try not to – Hey!"
She was shocked when his arm came around her and he pulled her firmly against his chest. She pushed ineffectually at his arm, letting out a huff of surprise when his knees drew up behind hers, aligning them neatly into a snug spoon.
"Shh," he said, his voice deep and resonant and awfully close to her ear.
She barely suppressed a shiver as his warm breath ghosted across the nape of her neck.
"I intend to get a good night's sleep," he said, sternly. "I suggest you do, too."
A soft humming sound started up in his chest, buzzing against her back. It was almost like purring, a comforting rolling sonorous vibration that wrapped her in a soothing cocoon.
The kikai, she realized, dreamily, relaxing into her companion's strong embrace.
Oh, she was going to have words with Shino. This kind of high-handed treatment didn't sit well with an independent kunoichi like her. Yes, she would certainly give him a piece of her mind.
Just as soon as she woke up.
Sometime during the night, Tenten had turned and lay half facing him, one arm flung out and one leg firmly wedged between his knees. The other arm was curled against his chest, her hand clutching his shirt front in a death grip.
He watched her through slitted eyes, not wanting to disturb her.
She had beautiful skin, a creamy white like the petal of a camellia. Her long dark lashes lay against her cheeks in a thick fan. Her lips were pursed in sleep, pale pink and full. Her long chestnut hair had unraveled from the rough braid she had bundled it into last night, and it draped between them , silky and smelling like lavender and lemon verbena.
He inhaled the scent of it, opening his mouth a little to bring the scent in more deeply. He could taste the flowery smell of her skin, roses and something spicy, like carnations, and under that a deeper smell that was uniquely hers, a mixture of fresh leaves and a tiny hint of iron.
She smelled delicious, edible.
He eased her body a little closer, bringing his nose down to the top of her head, his hand splayed across her slim back.
This was dangerous. And completely unlike him.
He never took advantage of a situation with a woman. And, yes, he had been in several that could have ended in a much less gentlemanly fashion than they did.
Mission sex was something that happened frequently. Many of his acquaintances thought of it as a perk of the job. Kiba often regaled him with tales of wild couplings before, during and after a mission.
He had been tempted several times.
He just couldn't go through with it.
His deep reserve made it difficult to act spontaneously, which was one reason why he'd held back.
The other was that the idea of casual sex was repugnant to him.
He longed for love, although he was resigned to the understanding that he would never experience it. He had realized a long time ago that it would be difficult to find someone who would be able to accept him and the kikai.
So, here he was, a beautiful woman in his arms, vulnerable and available, and all he could do was sniff her hair.
It was enough to make a man with less lofty ideals bitter.
A/N: End of part one. Handsome young man, beautiful young woman, forced to spend alone time together. What could be better? And, yes, it's a cliché, but isn't so much of life?
Please review: I try to answer everyone, and enjoy your insights.