Tenten doesn't know why she bothers anymore. Each day has settled into a pattern with few variables, and after years of blood, sweat, and so many tears, it is difficult to accept this as her reality. With her childhood love and the promise of a future ripped away by the cruel hand of destiny, she is still alone, watching idly as her comrades move on in station and create families of their own. In this dreamlike state of peacetime, she is forgotten, even by the remaining members of her team, who have long since moved on with their own lives.
Instead of vigorous training and missions befitting her rank, she now works day in and day out in her weapons shop, and of late she attends the gatherings, weddings, and baby showers of those who still consider her a friend, or rather those who remember to invite her. These days it truly seems as though she has nothing but her memories and a badly stitched heart that is still healing, marred with adhesions and scars that are soul deep, remnants of her years of loving a ghost, and mourning possibilities that were never meant to be.
Tenzou settles into the routine of each new day and clings to it like some people cling to their religious traditions. In the routine of duty, he has order, and the assurance that what he is doing is right and that he is still acting in service to the greater good. But now he is little more than a watchdog to a legendary criminal, one whom he still can't decide whether he should despise or thank for the experiment that granted him his rare abilities. Mokuton makes him a useful oddity, but not a memorable person. He is only acknowledged whenever someone needs his abilities, making him a hero when the village needs to rebuild, but little more in these days of peace. Occasionally he wonders whether he is just a vessel for the mokuton, and nothing more.
Today he has arrived home, granted furlough for a few weeks after six months of nonstop duty. But home doesn't feel like home anymore.
He finds himself in a bar, much like the ones he once frequented with his comrades back in their younger days. This is a newer establishment, buzzing with patrons that include plenty of off-duty shinobi, as well as civilians, and the atmosphere is lively. He sits at the bar and orders a beer, sipping half-heartedly as he scans the room. People-watching has been a hobby of his ever since first leaving ROOT, especially useful when he was first relearning how to interact with people, now it's just entertaining. Learning exactly what makes others tick helps him feel more prepared to attempt contact with them, though he is not sure if that is indeed what he is looking for tonight.
Tenten feels as though she should have known better than to go out tonight. The two younger kunoichi she arrived with have already scattered in search of their own conquests for the evening, and once again, she is left to herself, stirring a watered down cocktail with her straw. She awkwardly looks around, considering just going back home and feigning illness if questioned later.
He notices her first, though it takes him a few moments to realize who she is. Her dark hair is a loose, shining fall of mahogany waves over her shoulders, a definite contrast to the twin buns normally binding her soft looking tresses. She wears a pale blue cheongsam dress crossed with dark pink flowers that hugs her curves closely, accentuating her form in a lovely way. Her cheeks are slightly flushed, whether from alcohol or the press of bodies within the crowded room, he's unsure. There's a sense of concealed sadness in her hazel eyes, though her expression is otherwise serene. Anyone else might not be able to detect it, but he has spent years honing his ability to observe the subtle shifts and changes in expression that most people make unconsciously. Well, normal people anyway. She must feel his eyes on her, because she looks up, and after a moment, she smiles gently in recognition.
She is fairly certain that she hasn't seen the captain since before the war. He looks different without the usual happuri framing his face and holding back his chestnut brown hair, but his eyes are the same fathomless darkness, slightly more mature, made alive with the good natured smile he gives her when she meets his gaze. He gestures to her slightly and when she nods, he stands, picking up his drink and striding in her direction. Her stomach flips, warm all of the sudden, and as she looks over his tall, well built form, she realizes with some surprise that she is no longer looking at him like a former superior and acquaintance, but as a man, and a handsome one at that. The slight glimmer in his dark eyes has her hoping that he might not just see her as the teenage weapons mistress he fought alongside all those years ago, but perhaps as a woman. She doesn't know where the thought comes from, but she cannot deny the attraction that seems to be bubbling up within her as she watches him.
Tenzou remembers her as the spitfire weapons specialist kunoichi from Team Gai, but he is unexpectedly dazzled at how different she seems now, from the one time they worked on the same mission squad years ago. He knows she's younger than he is by almost a decade, and not one of the elites, merely a strong Chuunin, but her eyes draw him in, and he finds that he doesn't want to look away.
“Nice to see you...Tenten, if I remember correctly? I’m sorry, it’s been years.” He leans in close so that she can hear him, and she tries to ignore the small thrill that rolls down her spine at his rich baritone voice in her ear, and the heat of his breath across her cheek.
“Yamato-taichou! Yes, it has been quite a while. What a surprise to see you here - are you taking some time off?” She smiles genuinely as he takes the seat beside her, scooting it a bit closer.
“Something like that. It's my first night back, but I should be in the village for awhile. Just taking stock of how much things have changed around here. This place for starters.”
“Well, honestly things around here don't ever seem to stop changing, that's for sure.”
“Oh? What's new other than the obvious additions to the Konoha nightlife scene, and what seems to be a peak in new electronics availability?” he gestured to a couple furtively looking at their cell phones.
“Well, let's see. Most of our comrades are married with children now, Naruto and Hinata are expecting baby number two. Even Lee has a son - we’re thinking from a conquest outside the village. There's no mistaking Metal for anyone's else's child…” she pulls out her own phone and shows him a few pictures from Hinata’s recent baby shower.
“Cute little ones. What about you, Tenten? No bouncing babies or a husband who will challenge me to a duel if I buy you a drink?”
She flinches slightly, just quick enough for him to catch, then she scoffs with a wry smile.
“No, neither. I'm a free woman, you can buy me as many drinks as you'd like.”
Tenzou lifts a hand to get the bartender’s attention, signaling for another round for the two of them.
“Are you still on active duty?” he asks.
“Not many missions these days, but I am on the rosters if something comes up that I’m well suited for. I have plenty of other things to keep me busy though, like my shop. I also occasionally teach fuuinjutsu techniques and weapon skills at the academy.”
“An active kunoichi and independent entrepreneur who helps shape the abilities of our youth in your spare time, eh? Sounds more exciting than being a housewife.” he says with a grin. His smile is becoming devilishly attractive to her and she can’t help but stare.
“I suppose, though you make it sound way better than it actually is. I did get a set of kunai last week from the Land of Snow that were honed by the legendary smith Tachibana Ryuusei, and they include the double ended and curved versions along with the standard design… and gosh I'm sorry, this can't be very interesting at all.”
He throws his head back slightly with a chuckle. Her earnest passion for her craft is evident and strikes him as maddeningly adorable.
“I’ll have you know I actually find you very interesting. I'm a sucker for a girl who knows her weaponry.” Tenzou teases, winking at her.
Tenten takes a long sip of her drink, her cheeks flushing further at the flirtatious statement and the look in the captain's eyes. The bartender sets fresh drinks in front of them, and as he reaches for the bottle, the back of his hand inadvertently brushes along the length of her arm, and he feels a tremor of exhilaration at the softness of her skin. She pretends not to notice, but it seems as though every cell in her body is very much aware of his proximity, and itching to get closer.
“So what about you, Yamato-taichou? Other than lengthy, and certainly classified assignments, what have you been up to all this time?”
“Well, first of all, you can drop the ‘captain’, I haven't been yours for years. And Yamato is actually a code name. My name is Tenzou.”
He feels immediately self conscious at giving her his chosen name, wondering where the compulsion to tell her came from. He's been identifying as Yamato for so many years that it feels foreign on his tongue.
“Well, then. Pleasure to meet you, Tenzou...senpai?” she looks at him innocently, trying not to giggle.
“Oh that's so much worse, but if you insist… I guess it's accurate. You can just call me Tenzou.” he laughs. “I honestly haven't been doing much more than what you already said - lengthy and classified assignments. My current post is unfortunately one that does not allow me much freedom to do as I please.”
“So it's just on pause?” she asks, taking another long sip of her drink.
“Rokudaime-sama required it, he said I needed a break and must come home or risk reprimand. My post is apparently in someone else's capable hands until I go back.”
The noise in the bar suddenly swells as a large group of off-duty shinobi enter the establishment, loudly proclaiming the need to celebrate a certain already-drunk Chuunin’s last night as a single man.
“I don’t mean to sound too forward, but would you perhaps like to go somewhere quieter? It’s getting pretty crowded in here.” Tenzou asks, leaning in close again, and she can almost feel his lips touch her hair. He smells of clean linens and warm earth, and she breathes deeply, trying to calm her speeding pulse, and failing miserably.
“Are you sure? I mean, it’s your first night off in Kami-knows how long...” Tenten looks up at him curiously.
“I know, and I am actually enjoying it much more than I would be if it weren’t for your company.” He places several bills on the bar and offers her his hand. “Shall we?”
Tenten takes his hand and feels a sizzle of electricity practically shoot up her arm, followed by the warmth of his fingers encircling hers. She looks up to meet his dark gaze, and with a flash of heat, long dormant hungers are suddenly roiling gently through her belly. For Tenzou, it is as if the very weight of the air around them has changed in some way. As they make their way out of the bar, a reveler bumps into her, forcing her back to be pressed flush against the front of his body, and the sensation is sweeter than it has any right to be.
The tea shop that Tenzou had his heart set on is already closed for the night, so they simply walk countless blocks, in no clear direction, talking about anything and everything, from village gossip and the new technology popping up everywhere, to Tenten’s fondness for fortune-telling, and Tenzou’s love of architecture. The night is cool but not cold, and the light breezes that surround them are sweet and fresh as they meander through the village proper. They are crossing the main bridge towards the eastern commercial district when they realize that their hands are still entwined.
“Oh! Ah, sorry. I didn’t realize…” Tenten bites her lip, hesitantly releasing the warmth of his hand.
“No don’t be! Honestly I didn’t notice either. I guess it just felt right.” he smiles anxiously, raking his other hand through the messy spikes of his hair while simultaneously wishing the ground would swallow him. He has never been the smooth one when it came to interacting with women, that was always Kakashi’s or even Genma’s department.
“It did.” she says shyly. “ I don’t mind it...if you don’t.”
Tenzou takes her hand without hesitation, and they continue their walk, chatting and joking until they arrive at Tenten’s shop. She lives in the apartment above it, and as they approach the flight of stairs leading to the second floor, she suddenly feels nowhere near ready to end the night.
“Um, do you want to come in? For coffee or tea, perhaps?” she asks, worrying at her lip again, her nerves resurfacing. His eyes grow serious for a moment as he looks at her, and then he grins.
“Yes, I think that would be great.”
The apartment is warm, tidy, and decorated in bright splashes of color, with artful displays of some of Tenten’s more prized collector’s pieces. It is small, but homey, and Tenzou likes the many ways the dwelling bears the personality of its owner. The air smells of orchids, and a faint hint of leather and the oils used to maintain her blades. The familiar scent is especially alluring considering it speaks of Tenten’s passions and talents, and Tenzou watches her as she moves with ease around the space.
He keeps her company in the kitchen as she brews a pot of coffee. They both take theirs the same way, with plenty of cream and just enough sugar to give it a faint sweetness. She picks up their mugs and they settle down in the living room. The small loveseat ensures that the length of her thigh is unintentionally pressed along his own, and the generous bit of flesh revealed by the side slit of her short cheongsam dress teases his gaze.
“Would you like me to tell you your fortune, Tenzou?” she asks with glee, pulling a velvet bag of cards from a drawer on the side table, and sitting seiza in front of the low table, facing him.
“I don’t think anyone has ever done that for me, so sure, why not?” he sips his coffee.
“Okay, awesome!” Tenten smiles sweetly as she hands him the deck. “I’ll need you to shuffle the cards as many times as you like, then divide them into three piles. Restack the three piles into one deck in whatever manner you wish.”
Tenzou follows her instructions, then hands her the cards. He watches as the weapons mistress holds them in her hands for a few moments, them places the deck on the table, drawing three cards and placing them face down in a single row. She turns the leftmost card over.
“Alright, so the first card represents the past - Five of Swords. Conflict, betrayal, and lies. Shinobi life in a nutshell, I think.” her eyes are far away as she flips the next card.
“Second card is the present - the Hanged Man. Being suspended in place, looking at changing perspectives. It’s funny - I drew this card just the other day for myself.”
Suspended in place is possibly the best way to describe his life right now, he thinks, finding it funny how accurate such a novelty can be. It’s likely something that can apply to anyone if they think hard enough about it.
“And finally, the third card is the future - the Two of Cups. Love between individuals who are perfectly balanced to one another. Looks like you are on the path to finding your soulmate.” Tenten says blushing furiously, unable to look at him from across the table. She hastily restacks the cards and puts them back in the bag. He places his hand over hers and she looks at him in alarm, her brown eyes suddenly so sad that something in his chest clenches tight in empathy.
“Are you okay, Tenten?”
“Oh! Yes I’m fine, don’t worry about it. More coffee?” she smiles again, but it doesn’t reach her eyes.
“No thank you, I’m good. Did that last card bother you?” The words tumble out of his mouth before he can stop them, and her eyes widen for a moment. She averts her gaze, conflicted, then she sighs.
“I used to hope for that card, and I got it once, and the promise that came with it. But then life reminded me that fortune-telling isn’t truth, as much as I wished it might be, and that fate is cruel. Five years later, I am still in the same place...Gods, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I was really enjoying myself with you tonight, and I’m totally ruining it.”
“You’re not.” he said gently. “And I am enjoying myself as well. We all have wounds from our pasts, and sometimes the reminders are hard to shake. Just proves that you are capable of feeling, and there is nothing wrong with that. Believe it or not, it’s a good thing.”
“Sure, but you didn’t ask to hear a sob story about my inner demons.” She moves back to the sofa to sit beside him once more.
“Maybe I see it as getting to know you a little better. Again, remind me why is it we never really talked before?”
“Well, let’s see, there were endless missions to avert the certain disaster of a burgeoning apocalypse, and then a world war against godlike entities. Not much time for leisurely chats.”
“Ah, I guess you do raise a good point. Damn those godlike entities.” he laughed.
“You know, I think I did see you briefly at Naruto and Hinata’s wedding a few years ago, but you left so quickly I didn’t realize you were there until now.”
“Yeah, I’m kind of easily forgettable.” he looked down at his mug, setting it on the table.
“Oh please, you’re not. That’s my line.” she jibes, elbowing him slightly. He catches her upper arm reflexively, and her breath catches as he tightens his fingers and pulls her closer.
“I find it hard to believe you are truly forgettable, Tenten.” he whispers close to her ear. “I’m not very good with these types of situations, and I feel like a complete idiot saying this, but honestly, I haven’t been able to keep my eyes off of you since the second I saw you from across the bar.”
Neither are sure who moves at that point, but somehow her lips end up pressed against his, parted in a soft sigh that takes his breath away. He tugs her into his lap, and she pulls back to look into his eyes. The hunger she sees reflected back at her in those onyx black depths makes her shiver. When he kisses her again, it feels as if the whole world has fallen away, and there is only the taste of his mouth and the secure warmth of his arms around her.
Several minutes later they have abandoned all niceties for the call of the fire that runs in their blood, and the nearly-tangible sparks that pass between them as they touch. Tenten’s hands are tangled in his hair, and he is mapping every inch of her naked skin with calloused fingers, memorizing every change, every scar. His lips follow the paths of his hands, each touch hot and burning, as though his lips are lit coals and she is dry kindling.
She is luscious and beautiful, small and delightfully yielding beneath the bulk of his form. Her mouth tastes like wine and something that he cannot quite place, but it is intoxicating, and ultimately addictive - he already wants more, now, tomorrow, and for as long as he possibly can after that. His heads spins, puzzled at such sudden sentiments. He knows that he cannot make the assumption that this rendezvous could lead to more, it is foolish to think otherwise.
Tenzou has had other lovers over the years, but not relationships. His previous experiences have always been furtive post-mission joinings, or casual trysts with other nameless ANBU operatives who sought oblivion, not love, in the knowledge that their next mission might likely be their last. Expectations were always clear between both parties, with no complications, and no one coming home with him. Love in their world is a dangerous thing, and leads to heartbreak more often than not. Yet he still can’t deny how utterly sweet her skin feels against his own, and the way the intelligence in her gaze stirs other parts of his heart and psyche that only compound the delicious torment within his body. He cannot remember craving another person’s touch as much as he craves hers.
Her hands sweep across the velvety texture of his skin, bringing up gooseflesh as her lips traverse his neck and collarbone, making him groan softly. Tenten is surprised to find him as vocally expressive as he is, and she uses his responses to gauge his pleasure, teasing until his hands circle her wrists and press them back against the sofa. He looks at her with a softness in his eyes that brings up more warmth to her cheeks, and a deep longing in her heart.
He worships her with lips and tongue, until she is a writhing mess of arousal and need. She begs him for completion and he enters her slowly, gasping against her lips, stifling her own cry of pleasure as her arms wrap around his back, holding him close. He fits inside her perfectly, and each glorious movement of his body as it glides in and out of hers strokes and stirs up ecstasy in its wake, as though their bodies were made for each other.
She wonders for a moment if perhaps they are, if maybe, just maybe, this could be more than just a one night stand. Neji was her first and only lover, and those past experiences were gentle and loving, as they discovered the pleasures of the flesh together for the first time, the week before he was ultimately taken from her. Until tonight, she has never felt his kind of draw towards another man, and her body feels like it's on fire. She is overcome with the intensity of the sensations Tenzou inflicts on her flesh, playing her masterfully, like he knows her body better than she does herself. Tenten wants nothing more than to stay in this moment forever.
She pauses, puzzled over why such thoughts would enter her mind, and he stills his motion in concern, pressing kisses upon her cheeks. Then their eyes meet, and a feeling like a lightning strike passes through them both. Reservations are pushed aside as they lose themselves in the rush of skin and sensuous craving, the waves of pleasure ebbing higher and higher until they crash upon the shore together, violently tumbling down from heights of pleasure that neither of them have known before, at least in this lifetime.
When the rush subsides, Tenten’s heartbeat is like staccato drumbeats pounding in her head. Tenzou’s face is tucked against the curve of her neck, running his lips back and forth across her sweat slickened skin as he pants, trying to catch his breath. Then he kisses her so tenderly that she almost wants to cry, feeling the sudden emptiness as he withdraws from the clutch of her body.
“You have to know...I've never done this before.” she whispers, as he pushes her hair away from her face.
“Neither have I.” he says solemnly. “but I would do it again in a heartbeat if you would let me. Kami, Tenten, you have no idea how beautiful you are. If I could I would show you.”
He begins to sit up, picking up his discarded shirt. Alarms begin to go off in Tenten’s head.
“I don’t want you to go.” she says, sitting up, suddenly frightened and sounding like a petulant little girl to her own ears. “Please stay?”
“I’m not going anywhere just yet, love.” Tenzou scans her face, noting her anxiety. He drapes his open shirt around her shoulders. “What has you so spooked?”
Tenten turns several shades of red, feeling mortified. “I’m afraid that once you leave, I will never see you again. I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and this will have all been a dream.”
She covers her mouth. “Oh my gods, I’m sorry, I sound ridiculous. Please know that I’m not enough of a silly girl to hold out hope that this might be more than just a one-night thing, I know how you elites are, how you have to be.” she looks pointedly at the ANBU tattoo swirling up his left shoulder. “but I really like you. Tonight has been incredible. I...wish it didn’t have to end.”
“It doesn’t have to.” he says quietly. “There’s not much I can promise, but I do know I would like to spend more time with you. How about we just see where things go from there?”
Her face lights up with a warm smile, and he kisses her again, gathering her into his arms. They actually make it to her bedroom before giving in to the call of mutual desire once more.
Three weeks later, Tenzou is going through the familiar motions of the routine preparations for his return to active duty. It is early morning when he sets out, but for the first time, someone is there to see him off at the gate. As he kisses Tenten goodbye, he is already eagerly anticipating the day when he gets to come back home again.