Thump. Thump. Thump. The stacks of cup ramen and protein bars fell neatly into the hand basket, steadily, as a hand swiped the shelf clean. Tenten stifled a yawn with the back of her hand and kicked the basket across the floor and towards the counter, ignoring the bloodstains and soot marring the back of the armored plate.
"Hey," she nodded towards the cashier, long used the strange comings and goings of shinobi and their peculiar sense of fashion. Tenten's shin and arm guards, liberally smeared with ashes, dried blood and heavy knife scores, were given barely a second glance. Her short boyish hair, cut to the chin, gave off an oily sheen in the fluorescent lights. A closer inspection would've revealed clumps of dirt matted into her hair, and the smell of burnt chakra and flesh hovered closely around her.
"Tenten-san," the cashier responded politely, before methodically stacking her purchases and scanning them through the machine. It made quiet little buzzing sounds, and she bit the inside of her cheek, welcoming the pain. The buzzing noise sounded too much like a raiton building up, chakra humming as it danced along a katana. Footsteps echoed in the convenience store and Tenten tensed, before forcibly loosening her grip on the hidden kunai up her sleeves.
"Ahh," Shikamaru greeted her, his eyes hooded. He seemed permanently stuck in his slouch, hands shoved into his pockets, a bored look pasted onto his face. His uniform was clean, without the telltale smell of blood and chakra. There were dark circles under his eyes, made even more obvious by the buzzing lights overhead. He looked years older than twenty-one. If she had looked in a mirror herself, she knew she would find the same weary look as Shikamaru. Four years since the war had ended, but sometimes it seemed just like yesterday…
"Shikamaru," Tenten nodded and turned back to the register. Her thumb traced the inlay on the handle of a switchblade tucked inside a pocket as she forced herself to concentrate on it. Back from the mission, she reminded herself. I'm home, Ko-no-ha. Home. Bit by bit her shoulders smoothed out and the creases on her forehead disappeared.
"How bad was it?" He asked casually, staring at nothing particular. An indistinct package hung loosely from his fingertips.
"Okay," she said slowly. "I'm alive, aren't I?" A grim smile briefly flitted across her features.
"Ahh. Evals coming up soon. Should be alive for that at least."
"Sadly, yes. Hopefully, I'll make mostly sane; heard the psych ward was a real killer."
Shikamaru hummed noncommittally. "He's in the hospital, you know?"
"Who?" Tenten searched his face, her voice turning sharp. The switchblade twitched under her hands.
"Hyuuga Neji. Recon cut short and he's in intensive care."
"Critical?" she asked tensely, feeling the cool metal bite into her skin.
"Stable. One of those missions," he said lazily, and Tenten understood. An ANBU mission.
"Twenty-two ryou, Tenten-san," the cashier interjected in a monotone and Tenten smiled tightly, handing over the crisp bills. Her hands were steady, belying the coiled tension she could feel tightening inside her.
"I'll see you," she smiled tightly, giving Shikamaru a shallow bow. "Thanks for-" She hesitated. Thanks for letting me know that my former teammate almost killed himself?, she wondered, before biting the words down.
"I've been out for a while. I'll make sure to stop by the hospital." A quick flicker of chakra and Tenten disappeared, a soft gust of leaves hiding her exit.
"Troublesome," Shikamaru muttered, before fishing out a cigarette and lighting it up with an easy grace.
"Sorry?" the cashier asked politely, as he scanned the box of condoms and bagged it.
"Sometimes, even the smartest ninja can't see the traps they walk into," the Nara told the civilian in a world-weary voice. "And then they die." He sucked on the cigarette, holding the smoke in, looking lazy and deeply philosophical as he did so.
"I see," the clerk responded, his eyes bewildered. He handed the bag over to Shikamaru and bowed his farewells.
"Later," Shikamaru sighed, blowing a long stream of smoke out, and set out towards home. He would have to remember to send a note to Naruto and Ino about this later, before the situation became irreparable. The bag swinging lightly from his wrist, he took off for the roofs, the moon at his back.