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of so many kings

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“Are you sure about this?” 

Tenten looks up, one eyebrow lifted. Her lip has already been split, and there’s so much bruising on her cheekbone she’s sure it’s the same color as Hinata’s hair. She gathers up her saliva in her mouth, tastes the coppery tang of her blood, feels the pull of one of her teeth knocked loose, and she spits. 

“It’s not like you to ask more questions than you need to,” she replies. “It’s not like you to hold back either.”

Ino’s lips are pursed, and it’s clear she’s unhappy with the situation. Tenten can’t really blame her. 

She had cut off Team Gai in the process of regrouping after their run-in with Akatsuki. Snatched Tenten up right underneath her teacher’s nose. Even Neji hadn’t seen the pretty black adder until it was curving up Tenten’s exposed calf. She had gone still and Neji had, too, so had all of them. Snakes that small and dark were nothing but dangerous. One bite would kill her. The snake told them to walk away, and they did. They’d send someone for her as soon as the situation in Suna was secured; every Konoha shinobi knew one of Orochimaru’s snakes when they saw one. 

But the adder wasn’t Orochimaru’s. He had little patience for the ones small enough to fit in his hand. He preferred the ones large enough to swallow a man whole. But Ino? Where her peacock summons were hideously flashy, her snakes were neutral colored and innocuous. 

“Still,” Ino says, and there’s something eerily like tenderness when she brushes her fingertips against the curve of Tenten’s jaw, where a yellowing training bruise rests. “I want it to be believable. I don’t want to hurt you more than I have to.”

Tenten lifts an eyebrow, tests the strength of her bonds. She knows she could break out of them if she wanted to, knows Ino wouldn’t stop her. She’s only bound so she’ll have rope burn to show her superiors. 

“I’m alright,” she insists, leaning into Ino’s touch. “I know what I’m doing this for.”

Ino’s pupil-less eyes narrow. Danzou had already sniffed around Tenten when she was young and newly orphaned, a scion of Uzushio and Konoha with all the coloring of Fire Country. He had ignored her in favor of other children until her experiments with fuinjutsu gave rise to her Twin Dragon scrolls. As she progressed, his eye on her grew more focused. 

The orphan that Nonō had refused to hand over to Danzou had been Tenten at one point in time. He had demanded more than one. Tenten can clearly remember the day Kabuto stuck out his chin and decided he would go, if only to protect the rest of them. 

Kabuto had disappeared and so had Danzou. Then Tenten saw a familiar face at the Chuunin Exams, and her world turned over itself. 

“You know you don’t owe me anything,” Ino says, voice light. 

Tenten snorts. 

“I’m not doing it for you,” she replies. “I’m doing it for him.”

Kabuto had healed her scrapes as a kid. Had taught her finer control when she was teaching herself calligraphy from library books that older kids had managed to steal. And now he was so caught up, so twisted and turned inside of ROOT that Tenten couldn’t make heads or tails of him. 

Kabuto may have planted the suggestion, but Tenten was her own person. And she knew that the only person that could help her get her brother out of the mess he had buried himself in was Ino. 

Yamanaka were good with information. Orphans were good at keeping their heads down. Danzou didn’t usually take children old enough to think for themselves, but Tenten was a rare exception. All the more interesting for being kidnapped by Ino. The war hawk would want to know if she had seen Orochimaru. If she had seen Kabuto. If she had gleaned anything from the lost Yamanaka heir. 

“I know.”

Ino’s voice is a whisper. Tenten sighs. Of course she understands. She’s doing all of this for her own brother, too. 

Tenten turns and presses a light kiss to the curve of Ino’s hand. It makes her gaze soften just a touch. 

“Let one of your snakes try her milk teeth on me,” Tenten says. The impressions they’d leave would be damning. “Ruffle up my memories a little. Knock me around.”

Ino lifts an eyebrow, but she brushes her finger across Tenten’s cheekbone again before retracting her hand. She cracks her gloved knuckles, and Tenten can hear a gentle chorus of apologies from where Ino’s adders and asps and vipers gather at her ankles. 

“Be careful what you ask for,” Ino says, voice low and grim, even as she raises her fist to one of the last people on this planet that she loves. She needs a plant on the inside, and Tenten needs eyes on Kabuto. It would be a good trade even if they hadn’t had this something between them. “I wouldn’t want you messing up your hair.”

Tenten smiles through the blood in her teeth. She manages to say, “Do your worst,” before Ino’s fist connects.