It's not the angstiest oneshot in the world, but frankly, there's enough angst in here (by my standards) that I decided to use angst for the second genre. Keyword, "second".
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Hitting the bottle fast and hard was a habit she'd inherited from her father, God forsake him. Tenten wasn't very choosy about her sake, about the quality or the way it tasted or the exact heat with which it burned her throat going down, which was probably why she was in that particular establishment to begin with. It was cheap; that was the main reason behind it all, and ANBU didn't particularly pay very well.
The drinking age in Hi no Kuni was twenty-one; Hi no Kuni's drinking age was, in fact, the highest on the continent. Kaminari no Kuni allowed its young people to drink at eighteen, Mizu no Kuni at seventeen. Kaze no Kuni was happy to allow citizens to drink at sixteen, and Tsuchi no Kuni had no established drinking age to speak of. Tenten, at the moment, fell three years short of reaching Hi no Kuni's accepted age to drink, but no one seemed to care. The proprietor of the bar, like many bartenders, was a retired nin and was of the firm opinion that, whatever established law said, those who were old enough to commit murder in the name of the state were old enough to imbibe alcohol.
Tenten did very much appreciate the bartender's attitude, as she downed the saucer, and was quickly supplied with more sake by the bartender, who graced her with a sympathetic smile. While she was not particularly lovely, especially not when her single bun (she had stopped wearing her hair in two buns after the fashion of the country of her ancestry when she entered into ANBU) bled hairs, her entire body was disheveled and her eyes drooping, she was reasonably attractive, and the bartender had a weakness for girls with swords and knives.
"How long have you been here?"
She and Naruto had not known each other very well before they, at the same time, entered into ANBU. They had been put in the same squad for a short time before being passed off to different senpais, Naruto to Yamato-taicho and Tenten to Uzuki-taicho. But now, they were close enough that if one spotted the other at a bar, they would be more than willing to stop in and keep the other company.
Tenten turned her eyes on Naruto to find clear sapphire eyes tipping in her direction, more curious than concerned, though there was present elements of the latter. Her head shook a little too vigorously as she waved her hand in the air. "A couple of hours." She frowned, with slack lips that couldn't make the gesture quite as firm as usual. "Maybe." Tenten was both uncomfortably aware of and completely oblivious of the noticeable slur in her voice, and frowned at it in a way that only someone who was very tipsy could.
Naruto nodded at this, as though it made perfect sense, and in a way, it did. If one was going to drink, then one might as well get their money's worth out of it. He settled in the chair at the bar beside hers, alerting the bartender. "I'd like some sake," he murmured, usually loud voice made permanently quiet by his several months in ANBU. He cast his eyes towards Tenten. "And I'll pay for whatever else she drinks."
Several saucers of sake later, and Tenten was very concerned about something. It had been a grand total of six months since Naruto's last attempt to bring his erstwhile teammate home had resulted in the death of the final scion of a fallen noble house. Since then, Naruto's visits to the bars that would accommodate underage drinkers had increased exponentially. Tenten could sympathize, but she drank for her own reasons, and chose not to disclose those reasons. The question lingering on the tip of her tongue was a very simple one, but one that most wouldn't have been stupid, foolhardy or suicidal enough to ask.
But Tenten trusted Naruto, and he trusted her. Besides, alcohol was famous for the effect of lowering inhibition, so Tenten profited on it, and prayed to gods she did not worship that Naruto would not take offense. "Naruto…" She hesitated, and struggled to get a grip on the words that were tangling in her tongue. "Can you tell me something?" Her low, mellifluous voice, blurred by sake, somehow retained some of its sweet quality while being utterly saturated with alcohol. Tenten had a very high tolerance level for a young woman.
Again, there were blue eyes on her, and the sight of them made Tenten's stomach flutter more than it should have. Naruto's slackening mouth twitched with something that, in total sobriety, would have resembled a small smile. "Anything."
Tenten slipped back in her chair a little bit, her chin tucking down so far into her neck that her eyes could quite clearly see her boots, still dusted down with Tsuchi no Kuni soil; her brown eyes narrowed. "Naruto… Why did you want to save Sasuke so badly?"
For a moment, Naruto did nothing, and Tenten feared that she had made him angry and that he would leave. Naruto, while now quite inebriated, was considerably more sober than she was, and would most likely take offense to the inquiries he took offense to while sober. The sake cleared from her buzzing head for a moment to realize what a stupid question that had been.
"There's a lot of reasons, Tenten." Subconsciously, she breathed a sigh of relief, and turned her full, undivided attention back on the blond.
Naruto paused, frowning pensively. "I…made a promise, you know. To Sakura."
Yes, Tenten knew all about Naruto's promise to Sakura, and how the medic had never missed an opportunity to remind him, however much she might not have done it in words, that Naruto still had to keep his promise. Of course, Sakura's first loyalty had always been to Sasuke, and she would never hold a place in her heart for Naruto as she had had for Sasuke. It would always be Sasuke Sakura dreamed of, Sasuke Sakura loved, Sasuke whom Sakura, being a hormonal girl, would fantasize about endlessly.
In the meantime, Sakura made a very interesting ploy, that as a kunoichi Tenten could admire but as a person she abhorred. In order to make sure Naruto did not forget his promise, in a desperate bid to keep him from forgetting, Sakura sought to keep Naruto's attention fixated on her and his promise by using the best advantage that any kunoichi could ask for: her body.
Sakura and Naruto's relationship had lasted, in sexual terms, for all of five months. Tenten knew how starved for affection Naruto was; she had been that way twelve years ago, had remained that way until becoming a genin, and in some ways was still that way. And Sakura had known too. Naruto had lapped up every bit of attention Sakura had given him like an overeager puppy, anxious to please, and when she took that attention away for even the shortest amount of time he pined for her and behaved in such a way that eerily resembled drug withdrawal. And when Sasuke died, so did any use Sakura had for Naruto. They had already been growing apart, but her ending of the relationship and Naruto's subsequent admittance into ANBU had been what broke the camel's back. Tenten knew that Naruto and Sakura barely saw each other anymore.
Naruto had obviously gotten over Sakura the hard way: by having her metaphorically drop him on his head and leave him cold in the rain. It was harsh, it was brutal, but, whether fortunately or not, highly effective. Heartbroken he may have been at first, but there was no better cure for a broken heart than a job and lifestyle that barely gave one time enough to breathe, let alone dwell on old flames.
It was an old kunoichi's trick. They'd been leading men around through their skirts since time immemorial, but Tenten had to look askance at it when that trick was being performed by a kunoichi on a close comrade for the express purpose of manipulation. Especially when they knew that said companion was desperate for any sort of affection from her. Tenten supposed that if had to do with the differences between her and Sakura. Tenten had been the last of the Konoha Twelve kunoichi to lose her virginity, a few months prior; Sakura had been the first, at fourteen. Both had lost their virginity as a required part of a mission, but whereas Tenten had been uneager to behave in any way except to try to forget it ever happened, Sakura, who had apparently had a more pleasant experience, was more eager to explore her sexuality.
Tenten had no idea what Sakura's mentality had been at the time, when she started to make advances towards her blond teammate, so she knew she wasn't the best judge of whether what Sakura had done was worth it or not. But she knew that Sakura had obviously thought she had to do it, that she had no other choice, and Tenten did not know for what reasons Sakura had finally ended the—relationship? fling? romance? she and Naruto had had. Tenten just knew that her own personal experiences tended to make her look on Sakura's actions with some disapproval, that they biased her against her pink-haired comrade, and that, as a result, it was neither Tenten's place, nor in her ability, to judge.
Naruto was talking again. "I always keep my promises, you know. She would have never let me forget it if I didn't try, and try again." His voice was a little dull, though whether due to the alcohol or some emotion Tenten didn't know. "I knew…I knew she would just leave me on the roadside the moment Sasuke came back, but, you know, I didn't really care. I just wanted her to be happy."
He wasn't done. "And it wasn't just Sakura I made that promise to, Tenten. I made the promise to bring Sasuke home, to myself and to my village. And to him. He was my friend—remains my friend," Naruto added, with a catch in his voice, "and I didn't want to see him end up as a second skin for Orochimaru. He was a good shinobi, and Konoha didn't deserve to lose him. And besides—" his eyes fell on Tenten with a strange burning light "—why should I let Otogakure have an advantage that Konohagakure would lose, when Sasuke left?"
The last question was cold and utterly calculating, but Tenten saw it as a mark that Naruto was finally thinking like a nin should. He sought to exploit every advantage he could, even if it meant dragging someone kicking and screaming to a place he didn't want to go. But Sasuke wouldn't be dragged kicking and screaming anywhere. He was too busy lying underground, cold and decaying in the hard earth.
And there was something else besides that that Tenten could not ignore. "Naruto," she half-whispered, "what about your goal to be Hokage?"
Behaving as though he hadn't heard her correctly, Naruto shot a confused look Tenten's way, frowning inquisitively. "What'd you say, Tenten?"
Tenten hesitantly reached out and touched the top of his hand. At that moment, both had to notice the spark, and both ascribed it entirely to the sake. It was the sake; it had to be. There was no other good explanation for any of it. "Naruto… Ever since you've started focusing so much on getting Sasuke to come home, you've stopped focusing on becoming Hokage. Isn't that still what you want?"
"It is what I want," Naruto said, with a quality in his voice almost of shame. "But I'm not sure…how to go about that anymore. I always wanted to save Sasuke first. I wanted him to still be here when I became Hokage, and Sakura—"
"Sakura was looking out for her own interests!" Tenten interjected, her voice rising with sake-enhanced anger, before lowering to normal levels when she noticed several patrons of the bar and the bartender listening in with unwholesome enthusiasm. "She was looking out for her own interests, not yours and not anyone else's. And she either didn't care or didn't think she would hurt you in the process. She behaved as a true nin, but she didn't care about you when she acted like that. A true nin looks out for themselves, and, if anything—" Tenten paused; she and Sakura had never had the most amicable of relationships, but Tenten couldn't fault the way Sakura had behaved. Like a true shinobi, mercenary, looking out only for herself on missions, and no one else. "—we should follow her example. Besides…"
Tenten smiled sadly, tipping her head against his shoulder, and didn't notice the way Naruto frowned and looked at the top of her head, at the disheveled brown hairs. "…Naruto. People keep tugging you in opposite directions like so many dogs wrestling for a chew toy. They keep telling you to do this and that, and when to do it. When you wanted to be Hokage, you were following your own interests, your own passions. But you're not anymore."
"But I do still want to be Hokage!" Naruto exclaimed indignantly.
"You don't join ANBU to become a ruler," Tenten pointed out. She plucked up her—actually Naruto's—saucer of sake with the tips of her long, slim fingers and downed the contents. The bartender promptly refilled it, and Tenten started sipping again. Her sad smile grew bitter. "You know as well as I do… You join ANBU to disappear."
Naruto had no answer to that.
As Tenten rested her head more comfortably against the crook of Naruto's thin shoulder, she put down the saucer. "You never do anything for yourself. Why not, for just one day, do what makes you happy, instead of what makes everyone but you happy?"
A soft sigh came from beside her. Tenten looked at him out from under her eyelashes, mouth hanging open slightly, long hairs from her bun sliding down over her face. She waited, not quite with but close to bated breath for Naruto's answer.
"Maybe I should," Naruto admitted finally. "But you know, I'm not used to living that way."
"You should…get used to it. And you should start…living that way, Naruto. Just a little bit."
She was stopping every few seconds to frown and measure her words, her soft voice slurring even more now that she had had the nineteenth tiny saucer of sake. "You're drunk," Naruto commented, threading his fingers in to the strands of her hair, voice soft to keep from grating on her sensitive ears.
"So are you," Tenten fired back.
Naruto couldn't argue with her logic. In fact, he wasn't in much of a mood to be arguing with anything. He was too busy mulling over what Tenten had said to him. "Well, I suppose the only way to cure ourselves is to sleep it off." Naruto slapped down a large amount of ryo on the table to cover their cost, and looped an arm around his friend's waist to help her up, and started to walk out. "Come on, Tenten." The sun was only just beginning to go down anyway.
About two hours later, and Naruto had his nose buried in Tenten's long, loose hair. She didn't wear any fragrances, he noticed, not like that ridiculously strong, impractical perfume Sakura put in her hair every morning; the gunk made it so enemies with a strong enough sense of smell could pick up her coming from miles away. It was nice, Naruto thought, not to be able to smell a girl's hair from down the street. Despite the dust in her hair from her last mission, it still smelled nice.
"Hey, Tenten?" Naruto had some questions of his own, and, with the sake buzz finally starting to clear from his head, he was ready to articulate them without feeling like a fool. He hoped she would understand.
Tenten was lying flat on her back on the bed; it was the only accommodation that would suit either of them, there being no couch in Naruto's apartment and all, and they laid near each other as though they were chaste, innocent children and not a kunoichi who had, for the sake of her village, killed and whored herself out countless times and a shinobi who carried a terrible burden on him, that no one seemed to understand or appreciate anymore, and the only person who understood resided in a village over three hundred miles away. "Yeah, Naruto?"
He smiled. "I guess you joined ANBU to disappear too, right?"
She tilted her head, and warm brown eyes turned on him, on the whiskers on his face, on his nose and mouth, and finally to meet the sapphire of his eyes. "I joined ANBU because I wanted to," she whispered. Tenten sported a facial expression that featured very wide eyes and, while not unhappy, she wasn't smiling either. "Because I wanted to, Naruto."
"But you said it yourself," Naruto parried, propping up on one elbow and staring down at her, as Tenten's hands continued to fiddle, resting on her stomach. "The only reason anyone joins ANBU is because they either want to disappear or because they have to. If you wanted to join ANBU, then your purpose was to disappear."
Tenten shifted, for the first time seeming slightly uncomfortable under his scrutiny. Her plain black sleeveless top exposed the tattoo on her right upper arm, the mark that symbolized a lifelong allegiance to ANBU. There was the same mark on Naruto's left arm. What it said was that though they might live in semi-retirement from ANBU, as Kakashi did, no one ever left ANBU, and neither would they.
"Yeah," she admitted. "I guess I did." Tenten smiled slightly, a pale, wistful thing, quite sickly. "But at the same time, I've enjoyed some—not all—of what we've done in ANBU. It never lacks for excitement, you have to give it that."
"I don't dispute that," he conceded. Naruto tipped his chin up and sighed deeply before again staring at Tenten. "But what was it that made it necessary for you to disappear? What made you have to sink into the shadows?"
"I could ask you the same question."
One thing Naruto had learned about kunoichi who were good at what they did, was that they never gave whole answers and that they rarely told the whole truth. There was always a little lie hidden in the truth, and vice versa, to make the half-truths sweeter and thus easier to swallow. But Tenten was still better at dissemination and circumvention than any kunoichi he had ever met. If there was a question she didn't want to answer, she was going to find a way to not answer it and do so in such a way that she threw her interrogator, in this case Naruto, off of her scent.
And there was merit to her inquiry. He had to give her that.
Tenten sighed, closed her eyes and settled back down deep into the white linen bed sheets of Naruto's bed. "I'm not going to tell you straight up," she murmured. She opened her eyes halfway, languidly, and the suggestion of a smile began to appear on her thin lips. Her shades were all peeled away, like the wrappings off of a birthday present. Naruto looked at her, and saw only Tenten, and not the shadows that surrounded an ANBU operative. "But you have all night to figure it out."
"Yeah." Naruto sank down beside her. The balancing act fell apart, and they became what they had always been. A shinobi, and a kunoichi. "I guess I do."
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