I'm rating this an honorary T+ for language. The title was changed so as to be less offensive, but no less self-serving. :)

Dear Kishimoto, You Can Bite Me

"Shikamaru! Wake up."

There was a sharp jab in his gut, and Shikamaru lifted his head and opened his eyes to see Temari withdrawing a foot. She was obviously exasperated, but he barely noticed it over the searing pain in his wrists and shoulders and neck and back.

"Are you alive?" she asked.

It was a fair question. He hurt all over, felt sick and nauseous, although the nausea seemed like it was more from Temari's kick in the stomach than anything else. And he was dizzy. Weak. Too weak to understand why his back felt like it was splitting apart, too hazy to grasp for a way to stop it.

"Bastard got you good. Stand up, if you can. You'll feel better."

He couldn't answer her, but he could attempt to take her suggestion. He dragged his legs until his feet were underneath him and pushed upward. The pain in his back immediately intensified, hitting him so hard that he groaned and slumped forward, tearing upward on his shoulders again. He was starting to realize that he was, in essence, hanging from his elbows, his forearms attached to the wall somehow and his body weight on his arms and upper back. His feet were on the ground, but he was too far up to rest on his knees or his butt. So he brought his legs under him again and stood, pushing past the pain until he was upright. Once he was standing the pain calmed, now just a throbbing.

Temari was across from him, less than a meter away, bound to the wall as he was: her arms clamped from wrist to elbow in metal cuffs and held there by heavy, iron locks. It wasn't a wall, really; it was layers of block that curved out from her body, toward his, in a cylinder about the size of a closet. He glanced up toward the only source of light, and saw blue sky four meters above his head.

"We're in a well," he said. His voice sounded cracked, and he swallowed and licked dry lips. "Why?"

Her eyes widened a fraction. "You don't remember?"

He started to shake his head, but then memories finally heeded his beckon, flashing back to him in garish contrast, black and white and red. An ambush. The cruel grin of an enemy long-dead. Then his voice:

Now you'll see what it's like to rot in a fucking hole.


Then, less clearly, he remembered a burning in his chest. He wasn't sure if that one was a dream or not. His chest felt fine, now; in fact, it was one of the few places that did. But he definitely remembered being attacked while walking Temari out of the village. Ordinarily he would have stopped at the gate, but this time he hadn't. He wasn't really sure why.

"Seems like someone has a grudge against you," she said.

"Yeah, I..." Shikamaru searched for a suitable term in his mind, and failed. "I...killed him, once."

She humphed. "Next time, kill him more thoroughly."

"My bad."

"So, this is his revenge? Trap you in a dry well?"

Shikamaru shook his head. His pant legs were cold and damp, past his knees. Temari wasn't wearing pants, so she wouldn't know this. "It's not dry," he said. "At least, not all of the time."

Temari's eyes fell to his pants. "The tide?"

"Probably. If this is an old well, it might have dried up and been taken over by the sea a long time ago."

"Then we can't be anywhere near Konoha."

"Right. Assuming my pants got wet while we were in here, anyway."

But he could smell it, now: salty, moldy sea air, like decaying fish. Ocean. He turned his head and pressed his cheek against the rock behind him, trying to see if it was wet, too. It wasn't, but that didn't mean anything. He had no idea where they were in relation to sea level, no idea how full this well would get when the tide came back in. But something told him that Hidan wouldn't waste his time dragging out Shikamaru's death. He'd want to see it, to revel in his misery as soon as he possibly could. He could have trapped them in a well closer to home, but he'd picked this one for a reason.

Didn't explain why he'd bothered to bring Temari here, though. Hidan liked murder, but that was another thing he could have done near Konoha.

"How long have you been awake?" Shikamaru said.

"Only long enough to figure out that it takes a lot to get you to wake up."

"Yeah, well. When you're so comfortable..."

"And," she said, voice laden with meaning, "long enough to figure out that I can't use chakra."

At this, Shikamaru immediately tried using his shadow. It wasn't easy, without forming any seals, but it was clear that he wasn't even molding anything. Gone was the warm hum in his gut, flowing through his limbs when he concentrated. He felt empty. Now the phantom burning in his chest made sense; he'd been sealed while he was unconscious. Temari's eyes said that she understood completely his inner conflict, and she sighed, shoulders slumping.

"Bastard," she said again.

Shikamaru hadn't been worried until now. Being trapped in a well wasn't the worst problem he'd ever had to solve, but without chakra it was a whole different story. It only took him a second to determine that his vest and weapons pouches were gone, leaving him with no tools except his feet. Temari was in the same boat. Between the two of them they had nothing, and Hidan would have no intention of letting them leave here alive. The truth, when he admitted it to himself, was sobering; they were powerless to get themselves out of here.

"I guess this is the part where we start screaming for help," he said.

She gave him a wry smile. "I'm not that desperate, yet. Besides, I doubt we're close enough to a village for anyone to hear."

"Probably not."

"Do you think he's nearby?" she gestured her eyes upward.

"Hidan? I don't think so. He can't sit still when he's excited; he's like a puppy that way. He'll come back when he thinks I'm about to die."

"We'll just have to make sure there's nothing to see when he gets here."


They lapsed into silence, and he knew they were both wracking their brains for an escape. Temari was right; thinking came first, then screaming. And yelling for help was distasteful, anyway. The only way he'd do that is if he'd covered every possible option and found that there was no other choice. Screaming would be the absolute last ditch.


The water was up to their knees. Shikamaru's arms were ravaged from yanking and twisting against the metal cuffs, and he could feel blood trickling down his hands from his self-inflicted wounds. His throat was too raw to yell anymore, but Temari was still going at it, screaming as hard she could, her voice so cracked and strained that he doubted anyone would be able to hear it unless they were standing right outside the well.

"Hey! If anyone's up there, we need help! Help, you lazy sons-of-bitches!"

"It's pointless," he said, his own voice barely audible. "No one's out there."

"Oh, no," she said. "I'm not going to let you be pessimistic about this. Keep screaming, or we die."

They were dead, anyway. He'd visually been over every nook and cranny of this well, made a mental inventory of his clothes, and Temari's too, although he would never have said that to her. The locks that were holding them were no-brainers; all he needed was something thin and long like a senbon to jimmy them. But a senbon had been denied, as had every other thing that might possibly be able to help. It was a wonder Hidan hadn't left them in here naked.

There was no possibility that they would get out of this well on their own. He knew Temari knew that, which was why she was still screaming long after her voice had gone. But it was futile screaming. Futile and painful.


She glanced at him.

"Maybe you should take a break."

She stared as if angry for a moment, before resignation clouded her eyes. She sighed, sagging back against the wall. After a moment, she laughed weakly.


"I just..." She shrugged. "I never thought your dopey face would be the last thing I saw before I died."

"That's funny," he said. "I never expected to have you nagging me that long."

"I like to persevere the very end."

"Lucky me."

She smiled, a little sad, and he was flooded with a sense of guilt. He knew whose fault this was. If he hadn't been so arrogant, if he'd actually had the balls to take Hidan apart, burn him, scatter him, whatever it took to make sure he was dead, they wouldn't be here right now. What had he been thinking? That the deer could protect humanity from evil-incarnate for the rest of time?

He'd screwed up, he'd copped out, and now his colleague was suffering because of it. He felt sick.

"Temari," he began, "I'm sor-"

"Oh, save it," she said. "You're not going to take the blame for this. Really. I've never met anyone so damned determined to take on the responsibilities of the human race as you. It's kind of annoying."


"I'm not afraid to die, Shikamaru. I'm a shinobi; I came to terms with this a long time ago. But dying this way..." She nodded to the well in general. "...this just pisses me off."

He could see that. As for himself, he was expending too much effort feeling guilty about Temari and worrying about the results of unleashing a vengeful Hidan on Konoha to think about his own death. In particular he was concerned about Chouji and Ino and Kakashi, with whom Hidan would undoubtedly feel he had a score to settle. Kakashi could probably handle himself, but Shikamaru couldn't help thinking that, by dying, he'd be handing a death sentence to what was left of Team Asuma, as well. And God help Kurenai should Hidan discover that Asuma had been a husband and father.

Thinking about it renewed his determination to get out of the well, but gave him no more resources to accomplish it, and he sank against the wall, frustrated and depressed.

"They'll be okay," Temari said.
"Who will?"

"The people you're thinking about," she said. "Our disappearances will serve as a warning; they won't be caught off-guard like we were."

He wanted to take comfort at that, but he didn't really believe it. He knew she was just trying to make him feel better, but it wasn't in her nature to do it, so it wasn't very credible. She sounded like she was telling a fairy tale to a five-year-old.

"You're probably right."

He glanced at the surface of the water, lapping minutely against the inside of the well. When he stared at it, he imagined that he could see it rising, a millimeter at a time. What he could see was water leaking between the cracks in the stone, running down the walls from a good half-meter higher than that. Foreshadowing how high the water would be in thirty minutes. Or an hour. But not how high it would ultimately reach. He was beginning to think that this wasn't a true well at all, never had been, but was a sadistic coffin Hidan had built just for him. Everything about it was too perfect: the height of the shackles, low enough to pull slightly down on his shoulders so he couldn't stand up straight, but too high for him to get to his knees to rest. The slow way the water filled, prolonging the suspense. It was like being tortured by a mastermind, solely with the intention of making him crack. Except that Shikamaru wouldn't crack.

And Hidan wouldn't have stopped there, anyway.


"Ever seen a solar eclipse?"

"Yep. When I was still in Academy They brought us outside and we watched it in these homemade, uh...eclipse viewing boxes."

"I remember that one."

"Ever catch a lizard by its tail and have it pop off?"

"Uh-huh. Lots of times."

"I only did it once. I almost cried."

Temari laughed at him. "Have you ever eaten a raspberry tart?" Her face went a little dreamy, as if she was trying to conjure up the flavor. The bottom of her yukata floated up around her waist, but he could see that, for the moment, she was somewhere else entirely.

"Yeah," said Shikamaru. "But I didn't like it very much. I'm not a big dessert person."

"My mother used to make the most incredible tarts," she said. "After she died, I didn't have them for about fifteen years. But then I found the recipe when I was going through some of her old stuff, and when I made them again..." She trailed off, lost in memory.

"I'd probably like hers," he said.

"Yeah," she said. "She baked them really high at first, just for a minute, so the sugar would caramelize on the outside and the juice would stay inside."

"Sounds good."

She nodded, then her face cleared and she focused on him, as if surprised that she'd drifted off.

"Your turn," she said.

Shikamaru sorted through his brain, trying to find a good memory. Something better than maiming a lizard. Nostalgia hadn't been the purpose of this conversation when it had started; they'd just been trying to distract themselves by comparing success rates, pay checks, most odious and most rewarding missions. But it had turned into an impromptu stroll down memory lane, somewhere between show-and-tell and truth-or-dare. He didn't mind; it was better sharing likes and dislikes, learning about her family, confessing to stealing plums from the neighbor's orchard when he was six, than thinking about the water that was getting higher and higher, and the fact that the blocks were already leaking from shoulder height.

Much better not to think about that.

"Have you ever fallen asleep in the grass?" he asked.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "We don't have grass in Suna."

"Well, okay. Have you ever fallen asleep in the sand?"

"Not really. You fall asleep in the sand, you wake up with a new pet scorpion. In your pants."

He only laughed once, the painful scratching in his throat putting a stop to it immediately. "Now I understand why you never wear pants."

"I did when I was a kid. But the first time you have to tear a pair off in public because something is crawling up your leg is the last time you wear them. Guys aren't so lucky."

"Glad I live in Konoha, then."

She was wearing that far-away smile again. "Suna has its perks. Had its perks." But then there was a subtle change in her demeanor, and he could tell when she spoke again that she was done with musing. There was purpose in her voice, something strangely akin to desperation, except that Temari never got desperate.

"I have a question."

He couldn't bring himself to permit her to ask it, but he gave her his full attention. She deserved that much.

"How far were you planning to follow me this morning?"

He shifted until his weight was on the other foot, pressing his back to the wall. "I don't know," he said. "We were still talking."

She watched him soberly, waiting for more, and he sighed. What was the point of candor anymore? Hesitance? Fear of her opinion?

"Probably until after the bend in the road."

"Were you going to kiss me?"

It sounded like an accusation, and he squinted and stared at the wall, focused on the water that was dripping down the blocks in rivulets.

"It's not like I had a plan-"

"You always have a plan-"

"I obviously didn't have one this time." He jerked his head at their surroundings.

She rolled her eyes at his self-loathing. "I just thought you should know that if you had tried to kiss me, I would have let you."

This was not news that made him feel any better. Instead, it was a jerking in his gut, as feelings that he'd been carefully suppressing for god knew how long finally broke loose. It was despair, and regret, that they were having this embarrassing conversation now that it was too fucking late to do anything about it. What was he supposed to say now? I'd kiss you right now if we weren't chained to these walls? And then I'd carry you off and marry you? Right.

He met her gaze instead, and let her glean what information she could from his expression. He was surprised to see that she looked about as sick as he felt.

"Why are we so proud?" she said.

He couldn't shrug in this position, so he said. "I don't know."

"If you think about it, we have really fragile egos."


"I mean, I love you, but I would never say that to you. Not even if I was going to die."

He couldn't help the the tiny bubble of relief that swelled in his chest, even though her words changed nothing. Or the stupid wetness that formed on his lashes. "Yeah. I don't think I could say that, either."

Her eyes softened a little. "It would be stupid to admit something like that in a situation like this."

He nodded. "Yeah. Then you'd have to watch someone you love die-"

And that's when he realized. Well, he'd always known it, he just hadn't focused on the importance of this small but crucial fact:

Temari was shorter than he was.

And water outside the well had gotten higher, seeping between the block at her eye level. It would only be up to his neck at that point, though; he'd be breathing easily and have a clear view of Temari's last moments. And, then, how long would it be until he died? Not right away. No, the water would never get high enough to drown him. Hidan would leave him in here to rot, just like he'd promised. Only rotting took a lot longer when you were alive.

And he somehow doubted that Hidan would have the decency to remove Temari's body.

Everything made sense, now. The very specific height of the metal shackles. Bringing Temari instead of killing her for fun back in Fire. Shikamaru had lost. He might be smarter than Hidan, and quicker, but he would never be able to imagine the evil that Hidan could cook up in his sleep. And all of Shikamaru's brains and speed meant nothing, because he was chained in this well and Hidan had the key. Hidan had the power.

So he screamed. He screamed harder than he ever had before, his voice searing as it tore through his throat..

"Hidan, you motherfucker! Get down here and show your fucking face! Coward!"

It was weak. Pathetic. He'd already worn out his voice, and if Hidan was close enough to hear he'd only be laughing. But he tried again, desperate to stop this somehow. To save Temari, if at all possible.

"I get it, okay? I get it! Just let her go! This has nothing to do with her!"

No response. Not that he'd expected one. He didn't know if Hidan was distancing himself out of boredom, or for the power trip, but either way he wasn't acknowledging Shikamaru. That didn't mean he wasn't around somewhere. He'd want to see Shikamaru's anguish. Offer it to Jashin or something. Asshole.

He was crying in earnest, now. Not sad tears, not sobbing, but hot, frustrated, furious tears at his inability to help either one of them.

"I'm sorry." Water was inching up Temari's ribcage, and she stared at him as if willing him to understand. "I shouldn't have said anything."

Too late now. The damage had been done. She forced him to realize that he cared about her, that she was maybe the last person on earth that he'd want to have in this well with him. And, lucky her, she'd be dead when his time came.

"We have to get out of here," he said. "There's got to be something we haven't thought of."

"There's nothing," she said. "What's changed about this hole in the last hour? Nothing."

"We need something long and thin," he said. "So we can-"

"I know. You keep saying that. Long and thin, but there's nothing like that within our reach."

"Why are you giving up now? You wouldn't shut up before."

"Because you were right. Screaming was our last ditch effort. We used it up a long time ago. All we have are our clothes, and there's nothing on our bodies that's long and thin..." She trailed off, suddenly thoughtful, eyes narrowed. Then they popped open in abrupt realization.

"Oh, my god."


"I've got it."

"Got what?"

She shook her head gently, disbelieving. "It's impossible, but it's the only shot we have. It's my bra..."

He gaped, confused, and irritated because of it. "What about your bra?"

"There are underwires," she said. "Two of them. They're thin steel. Kind of curved, but definitely thin. I don't know how I'd get them out, though..." She made a weak show of trying to kneel until her back was near her hands, but it was clearly out of reach.

"Thin, steel wires?" He couldn't help but stare at her chest, trying to imagine where they might be.

"Under each cup," she said.

"Are they malleable?"

"I don't think so."

"Perfect. How do I get your bra off?"


He kicked off his sandals and reached out with his left foot, putting it against the wall beside her. It barely reached, and when he pushed back against his forearms the ball of his foot took all of his weight. His arms and back burned with pain, but he ignored it and kicked up with his other foot. The pain doubled, tripled, and he groaned until he got the new foot against the wall. He was essentially straddling her, the weight of his body supported on his upper back and feet. He wanted to die.

"How do I get it off?" he gasped. "Hurry."

"Well..." She stuttered, staring at the weird way he was holding himself up. "...we have to get my dress open, first..."

He gritted his teeth and took a foot off the wall, precariously balanced as he tried to slip his toes under the sash of her yukata. She frowned slightly, but he couldn't afford to care about offending her right now. Then she seemed to wake up, or maybe get some sense, and she arched her back, thrusting her upper body out toward him. It didn't help at all; it pulled the material of the sash tight against her ribcage and forced him to bring his foot closer to his own body. He was about to tell her this, but then he saw that she was actually reaching for the ends of the bow, trying to maneuver until they dangled between her fingers. This was a better tactic than the one he'd been using, so he allowed himself to drop his feet back to the ground and give his forearms a break.

Long minutes dragged by as he watched her struggle, grimacing, sweat beading on her forehead. It was maddening to watch this; to wonder what the hell was taking so long and to be unable to see or help.

"This is never going to work," she said. "I'm going to die, and now I'll just be naked when I do."

"Shut up. We're not going to talk about that."

She kept fumbling, then she apparently got a hold of it because her face cleared and she lifted her upper body away from her bound hands. She repeated the pull-and-lift motion a couple of times, and then he could finally see the sash start to fall away from her body. She tried to shake it loose, but the water kept it close to her chest. Didn't matter; her yukata gaped open in the front, giving Shikamaru a glimpse of the seal Hidan had given her, and she dipped and shrugged each shoulder in an effort to work it off. She caught his eye and gave him a disapproving frown.

"Don't stare," she said. "This is awkward enough as it is."

"I can't help it. You're taking too long."

She shrugged a shoulder violently, almost angrily. "I'm aware that you're going to see my breasts, but if you gawk, I will break you."

"I'm not going to be thinking about gawking. I'm going to be thinking about not letting you die."

Right. He didn't want her to die. And she was wasting precious time. So he kicked up and put his feet against the wall again, then, in one quick movement, caught one edge of her yukata with his toes and pulled it down. He gave the other side the same treatment, and the yukata finally slipped down her arms until it floated in the water around her, only attached to her at the elbows. An angry flush crawled across her face, but she glanced away, offering him privacy as he dropped his feet back into the water with a splash and contemplated her bra.

It was black, made out of some shiny material, and he could see now what she was talking about: along the under curve of each cup was what looked like an encasement for something rounded and stiff. He couldn't imagine getting to one of those wires, unless he chewed it out, but he'd have to worry about that later.

"How do I get this off?"

She looked down at her bra and sighed. "This one clasps in the back. I think the only way you'll be able to do it is to rip it off. It won't be easy."

He kicked up again, noting how it got a little easier each time. The well was filling up faster now, and his body was getting more buoyant in the salty water. But that also meant that he had less time to work.

He pushed his left foot hard against the wall, then placed the ball of his right foot against her chest, right below her breastbone, trying not to put to much weight on that leg and stand on her.


"Oh, just fricking peachy. Your foot feels like ice."

Her mouth set in an annoyed line as he inched toward her bra, then began to work his toes under the material, and he heard himself murmur an apology when he first brushed the soft skin hidden below it. No time to think about her skin. Only time to try and figure out how to get enough leverage to tear fabric from this angle.

It was obvious he was going about it the wrong way; he'd never be able to pull his foot toward himself with enough force. So he slipped out and tried a new tactic. His back ached, begging him to let his feet fall to the ground and take a break, but he refused. The water was to her elbows already and creeping up faster.

He went after her straps, using his toes to work them down her arms. This was delicate, infuriating work; his wet foot was only serving to plaster the thin material to her skin. But he was finally able to inch one past her shoulder, then the other. They dangled around her arms, and he walked his foot down her chest and attempted to clasp the edge of the bra with all of his toes at once. He kept apologizing, unable to not notice the fact that he was groping her, until she told him to be quiet and get over it.

"I'll make you pay later," she said. "Don't think I won't."

His foot cramped, sending a streak of lightning pain through his heel and ankle, but he clenched his teeth and powered through it.

"Maybe I should just..." He gasped for breath. "...leave you here, then..."

"I'll make you pay for that, too. Now, hurry!"

He choked out his feelings of embarrassment and grabbed the bra, yanking it down to water level. He refused to look at her exposed chest; instead, he closed his eyes and totally focused on hooking the bra and pulling it farther down her body, beneath the surface of the water. He could no longer see what he was doing, anyway, so he might as well do it blind.

"Any chance you'll be able to step out of this when I get it down?" he asked. "Even if it's still attached at your elbows?"

She snorted. "I think you're underestimating the breadth of my ass."

Oh, right. He cursed silently, then went to Plan B. The water would prevent him from pulling back as hard as he needed to, so he got the bra down to her waist and worked his foot in from the top down, all the way past his heel. Then he made a large, counter-clockwise circle with his foot, pulling the bra away and twisting it around his ankle. He repeated the motion, then again, his toes brushing her breasts each time they went from two to ten o'clock. But he kept at it, even though he was losing circulation in his foot and Temari made a gagging sound as the fabric tightened.

"This sucks!"

"I'm sorry!"

He felt a weak little pop, and his eyes flew open automatically. He caught a glimpse of her upper body before he forced himself to look at her face, and noted that she wasn't going to have to be embarrassed much long. The water would be covering her chest soon.

"A hook broke!" she said. "Keep going!"

Another twist, another broken hook. Then during the next pass, he felt the whole bra tear free in the back, now only held in place by her arm straps. But these were smaller and more easily dealt with; he dropped both feet toward the ground, the right still wrapped in her bra, then pulled his foot in toward his body until the straps tore loose.

"Thank god," Temari said.

"Don't get excited just yet. I still have to get the bra off my foot and up to my mouth."

"Your mouth?"

"I going to chew out the wire."

She looked at him like he was crazy. "But that'll take forever-"

"You have a better idea?" He could watch her directly, now; either the water had already risen past her nipples, or she'd inched down in order to hide them. "Maybe you have a pair of scissors on you?"

She sighed loudly, disgusted. "Then let me help you."

Water swirled around his legs, and Temari's foot made contact. She slid down until she was at the bra, and then they worked together to remove it, each of them using a foot. The water was at her shoulders by the time they got it off, and Shikamaru was fighting panic.

"Can you get the bra up for me?"

"Yeah, hang on..." Temari looked thoughtful for a moment, and he could feel her foot swishing through the water. Then she began to walk up the wall as he had, only he could see that it was harder for her. Her legs were a shorter, so he knew she must be having a miserable time of it, but she didn't complain. He slipped down the wall in order to meet her part way, and when her bra-clad foot appeared near his head, he reached over and grabbed it in his teeth. He kept them clenched tightly while he spoke.

"Help me move this thing until I'm near one of the wires."

She didn't speak; he doubted she was capable of it. But she caught the bra between two toes and guided the end of a wire until he could bite it. Once he was sure he had it, he let Temari put her legs down again.

"If I drop this, you'll have to act quick to catch it."

She was breathing hard, but she nodded. "Okay."

He had no intention of dropping it, though. No way was he going to let this tiny lifesaver go, when that would mean a death sentence for Temari. Instead, he moved it around in his mouth, millimeter by microscopic millimeter until he could feel the very edge where steel bumped fabric. Then he clamped it as hard as he could, and began to work his teeth back and forth, trying to use wire itself to tear through the fabric. This proved to be the most time consuming activity. He worked as fast as he could, occasionally shifting the wire to his molars when he grip weakened and he thought he might drop it. He gnawed and chewed while the water inched its way up Temari's body, past shoulders, past her neck, until it lapped at her chin. Desperation gripped him the first time the water touched her grim bottom lip, but just then he felt the edge of the wire break through. Relieved, but not out of the woods yet, he caught the wire between his teeth and jerked his head at Temari.

"I need your help. Can you slide the bra off the wire while I hold it?"

"You have it?"

"For the moment. But you'll have to be very careful."

The only way for Temari to get her feet up to his face again was to hold her breath and sink down so she could press her hips flush against the wall. He watched in abject horror as the water rose to her forehead, and he could feel her frantically walking up the wall. He knew she couldn't see or take orders, so he was forced to take matters into his own hands: as soon as she had a grip on the bra, he held fast to the wire and pulled his head away, slipping it free.

Temari's feet sank like lead, then her head popped up again. He was dismayed to see that she had to tilt her head back to talk to him, and even then, her words bubbled through ocean water.

"Did you get it?"

"Yeah. But now I need you to do something crucial."

"What? Get the wire to your hands somehow?"

"Yeah. If you can just get it near a hand, I'll grab it and do the rest."

Another deep breath, and Temari sank below the surface. Feet brushed up each side of his body, and Temari practically kicked him in the face trying to get the wire. She finally put the weight of her foot against his chin, which was painful, but it allowed him to guide the wire down so she could catch it between her toes. When it seemed like she had a good hold on it, he finally relinquished it to her. This was the worst. He trusted her, but it was killing him to no longer have control. All he could do was wait, frustration mounting in his body with each moment that the wire was out of his possession. If only Hidan would show up right now; Shikamaru would probably be able to tear out of these cuffs, from sheer fury.

Her head popped up and she gulped in some air, then she disappeared again. Her right foot planted beside him, and her left foot walked up his body instead of the wall. He understood; she couldn't afford to estimate where she thought his hands might be. She had to find them the first time.

She felt out his thigh, his stomach, then across to his elbow. Then she slipped lower, a little lower, until the wire tickled the back of his right hand. He rotated his forearm, felt around deliberately for the wire; the minute it touched his palm, he grabbed it and wouldn't let go. He felt a gentle tug from Temari, checking to be sure his grip was firm, then she dropped her feet. When she stood up this time, the water was past her mouth. She leaned her head way back, drawing in deep droughts of air though her nose, then furrowed her eyebrows at him in supplication.

"I've got it," he said. "Just hang on for one more minute. I'll unlock this..."

Her eyes said she didn't have one more minute. Water was pouring in, now, and he was only just fumbling to hold the wire in the right position to work it into a lock. He couldn't believe his good fortune, that the wire was curved; it was the only way this might possibly work. But even at the sharpest angle he could make with his wrist, the edge of the wire just barely brushed the keyhole.

He twisted a fraction to the left, then to the right, trying to at least get the wire to reach inside the hole. He worked the wore to the very tips of his fingers, clamping it so tightly that his hand ached, and was able to get a bit more length that way. But it still wasn't enough.

Water crept up to Temari's nostrils, and he saw her take one final breath before her last source of air was cut off. Fuck. He wasn't going to make it, and she was going to drown, and he was so god damned close but it was going to be too late...

But he couldn't give up. Temari's eyes were squinted shut, trying to survive on that last breath of air, and he was seized by desperation. He contorted his wrist at an excruciating angle, holding it, holding it as he finally felt the wire move into the keyhole. Then he fumbled for the thing that would trigger it, feeling for gentle resistance. He contacted something solid, then slipped past it on accident. Then he tried again. Failed again.

It was during his third attempt that he saw Temari's head jerk, slamming back into the wall. Drowning. Inhaling water, her body freaking out because she wasn't getting air, trying to force her to expel what was in her lungs and head for the surface, only she couldn't because she was locked to a fucking wall.

"Temari!" He shouted at her, still trying to trip the lock. "Temari, hang on! I've almost got it! For god's sake..."

She thrashed in the water, eyes only focused on his for a second. Pleading. Then glazing over. Fading. Lids falling closed as she finally stopped fighting.

"Shit! Temari, no!"

He's not sure how he did it. One second, he couldn't reach what he needed to reach, find what he needed to find in the lock. Then all of the sudden his range of motion doubled. He barely felt the snap, scarcely noticed the agonizing pain in his wrist, right at the edge of the metal cuff. All he cared about was the smooth way the wire slipped into the lock. He located the trigger, popped it open, and the second his hand was free he went for the other lock. He got it open in an instant, then he threw himself across the well to Temari. It was too late; she'd stopped breathing half a minute ago; there was no way she was going to survive. But his body acted independently of his brain, treated her like a hostage that could still be saved. He unlocked her wrists and pulled her away from the wall, then gathered her up and lifted her until her face was above the water again. She didn't breathe. Her lips were blue, her body lifeless and heavy, and he choked on helpless tears. He didn't even have the chakra to leap out of here. He could press his back and feet against the wall and "walk" his way up, but that would take too long, Temari needed CPR now.

There was nothing to do but try. He climbed up the wall, Temari getting heavier and heavier with each passing second as he drew her up out of the water. Once he had her completely clear of the water, hovering halfway up the well, he draped her over his thighs and whacked her on the back, trying to force water from her lungs. It ran from her mouth, down her face and dripped from her hair, but there was no effort on her part to replace it with air. Shit, shit, shit.

He moved up the wall as quickly as he could; after a couple of meters he lightened his burden by tearing off Temari's soaking yukata and letting it fall back into the water. Another foot, then another, and he could almost see daylight. But nearly two minutes had passed since Temari had stopped breathing, and he was losing hope, tears running down his cheeks as he made his futile climb up the wall.

He made it to the edge, then unceremoniously shoved Temari onto the grass so that he could work his way out of the hole. Once he was out, he dove for her. He rolled her onto her back, checked for a pulse. Nothing. Too late for CPR, but he had to try; he tilted her chin back and pinched her nose with one hand, favoring his left without much thought, then covered her mouth with his and gave her four strong breaths, one right after the other. Trying to push past the water that would still be in her lungs. Her chest rose with each breath, but it was like blowing into an inner tube. A lifeless thing that deflated again the moment it was abandoned.

"Temari!" He covered her heart with his palms and thrust into her chest five times. "Wake up!"

Nothing. He gave her another strong breath, five chest thrusts. Pain shot up his right arm, wrist to shoulder, but he ignored it. He repeated the cycle, anyway, again and again; breathe, then five thrusts. Breathe. Thrust.




She wasn't. And she wasn't going to. He'd taken thirty seconds too long in the well, and now she was dead. His tears poured onto her face and chest as he worked, with no other purpose now other than the fact that he couldn't stop, and because this would be the only time he touched her skin, and the only time his lips met hers. His thrusts got weaker, became a gentle stroking of her cool chest, and when he leaned over to give her a last breath, it became a kiss instead. He carefully pushed her wet bangs back from her forehead, kissed her there, and let his own forehead drop to hers as his spirit broke. Exhaling onto her face, the air that she could have if only she'd wake up and take it.

"Stubborn woman," he whispered. "I thought you were stronger than this."

She was strong. But only human. Human, and fallible. He brushed his fingertips from her ear to her throat, slipped his hand behind her neck as he kissed her, one last time. And then he started to pull away.

Then he felt it.

The faintest, weakest hint of a pulse, right below her jaw. At first his thought it was wishful thinking, that he was picking up his own pulse in his thumb by mistake. But when he pressed his ear to her chest, he could hear it: a flutter. A sound as soft as a fawn's hooves stepping lightly in summer grass. A vibration you only imagined you could hear. But it was there.

Astonished, filled with renewed hope, he tilted her head back and bent over quickly to breathe into her mouth again. Then again. Then, all at once, she gave a violent cough that lifted her shoulders and head from the ground and wracked her body. She gagged and rolled onto her side, coughing and choking as she expelled water and some kind of pale foam. Then she sucked in a deep breath, coughed again, and continued over onto her chest and pushed herself onto hands and knees. She kept coughing, and all he could do was hit her on the back in his effort to help.

"Temari," he said, so shocked that his tears dried up instantly. "You're alive."

A long moment while she caught her breath, then she glanced up at him with bleary eyes.


He couldn't help himself. He grabbed her and held her against his chest, kissed her in spite of the way she still choked, and the disgusting stuff on her lips. She laughed without energy, but she clung to his shoulders. Not fighting him. And not complaining about the fact that he was kissing her while she was in her underwear.

"I love you," he said, not even a little embarrassed. "You scared the shit out of me!"

"Sorry about that."

He sat up long enough to take his shirt off, then he helped her put it on, covering the seal and her bare breasts. She grimaced at the touch of cold, wet fabric, but she didn't complain about that, either.

"Don't get comfortable," she croaked, voice ravaged by screaming and coughing. "That Akatsuki guy will still be around here somewhere."

He hadn't forgotten. And when as he glanced up in the direction of the nearby forest, he saw a flash of black and red, a robe fluttering behind the trees. Hidan.

He got to his feet, leaving Temari where she was. She wouldn't be able to help him, but he wasn't going to need it. He couldn't use his chakra, and he was pretty sure his wrist was broken. It didn't matter. He was going to take Hidan down. Right here. Right now.

And, this time, there would be no parts left to regenerate.

The End

A/N: This is how you know you're a writer:

You act out the scene from your story in a hallway with a sewing dummy to make sure it's plausible, right down to chewing through a fifty dollar bra to get at the underwire.

I wrote this a long time ago. In fact, I wrote it the day that Kishimoto's interview came out. You know, the one that has totally sucked the lifeblood out of the Shika/Tema community? The ending of the story used to be much different. Imagine everything up to "I thought you were stronger than this," then stop. You get the idea. Anyway, I couldn't bring myself to post it that way on FFN and depress everyone else. That said, I think the symbolism should be pretty obvious. Kishi and his editors have a way of creating good characters, and then hobbling them to the point where they can no longer act in interesting ways. What can I say.

I don't have access to the internet at my house right now. I'm posting this from my husband's place of work, and it will probably be a week or so before I can read and respond to reviews. But please still leave them for me. :) I'll probably come back around then and clean up the story, also.