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Remembering my Heart

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“Just as pain is the extreme limit of pleasure, so, then, misery ends with unanticipated happiness.”

-Giovanni Boccaccio-

 

“Remembering my Heart”

By: FenixPhoenix


One-Shot


 Year 3050. The world as we knew it came to the brink of destruction. A shower of what we all assumed were meteors crashed upon our planet, wiping out countless cities, destroying entire countries, killing millions of unsuspecting citizens. Those few who survived and made their way to the crashing sites witnessed first the enormity of what we faced. They were not meteors what plunged into our planet from the cold confines of space. They were ships.

 From their bowels came sentient beings the likes we had never seen before. They were machines that, as outstanding as it sounded, were organic as well. They were fearsome and terrifying in numbers. And their goal was set. To conquer.

 The human military across the globe joined in an effort to stop the alien invasion. But raw power wasn’t enough against these humongous beasts. The aliens seemed to have some kind of natural armor to protect them from everything save the strongest of guns and missiles, and even then, we were rapidly running out of ammo. The usage of nuclear weapons was quickly becoming a possibility in our desperation.

 I was six when they came. I was forced to grow up sooner than I should have. By the time I turned ten, I was already part of the resistance my family and I had joined. I was in the front lines, fighting alongside others that had long since resigned the right to call themselves children. I do not remember much about that time, except for bits and pieces that led me to believe that I had once been needed, that I had once been… It doesn’t matter. What matters is that one day something changed.

 

 Year 3059. The chain of evolution was forever altered. A transformation occurred in some people that had managed to escape the laboratories in various enemy ships. Rather than being assimilated and transformed into deformed and mindless war machines by the forces we came to know as “Raptors”, their own bodies accommodated to the alien experiments.

 These people, still very much aware of their humanity despite the alien bugs running in their system, came to be known as the ‘Aburames’. When I was sixteen, I myself fell prey to the aliens and, a year later, ultimately became one of these survivors. Much of my life before that point is, like I said before, a blur, a puzzle with too many missing pieces to my liking. But I knew I was part of the resistance. I knew I was human. I knew that I fought to protect something very precious to me.

 I always thought it was my freedom.

 

 Year 3061. The resistance of Suna found me hiding from my persecutors in an old bunker and took me in with open arms. There weren’t many Aburames, I soon learned, but those precious few were monumental in tilting strategic battles in our favor. Unbeknownst to them, the raptors had created the perfect weapon, the only solider that stood a chance against their onslaught. The Aburames’ bodies, once in contact with the alien machines and experiments, had produced small mechanic, black beetles to counteract the transformation intended. Once these beetles were unleashed on the Raptors, they ate their life force, feeding it to the Aburame controlling them, making his body strong enough to create even more of these beetle-like soldiers which we dubbed ‘Kikkai’.

 

 Year 3065. When the numbers of Aburames rose to over a thousand, the human resistance used us to help destroy three of their biggest mother ships across the world. When the ships went down, hundreds of Aburames dying in the suicidal enterprise, the Raptors learned their lessons. They stopped their kidnapping and their attempt at conquering something that was simply unconquerable. One day they pulled back to their huge, black ships and left. That day what was left of the world united in a collective cheer.

 But what of us who survived the mission? Once the threat was gone, we found ourselves without a place to belong. We were no longer needed and, as the months rolled by, we realized that we were also unwanted.

 

 Year 3066. We began to be feared. It all started with a small group of voices asking questions, spreading false beliefs. We, the Aburames, had always considered ourselves survivors, humans to the core. Yet, nobody knew exactly what we were, not even ourselves and so soon people starting questioning if we were truly human and not Raptors in disguise.

 The heroes of the war had suddenly become humanity’s biggest threat. The irony did not elude me. Though I wished to believe otherwise, a thousand people asking the same questions prompted me to ask it as well. Could they be right? Could that many people be wrong? Who is to say that the experiments had really failed? Who is to say that it was just taking longer to transform us, but transform we would? I must admit that the mere idea of it frightened me. It filled me with a despair that hung to me like a heavy cloak, ready to drag me to the ground in a living tomb. 

 If not for some of my friends, especially Shibi –an older Aburame who took the role of my father once I was found—I would have tried to kill myself and end the potential threat I could become. But he was there, as were Kiba and Hinata, both human friends of mine, and so I was saved.

 

Year 3067. Knowing that a war amongst ourselves would finish destroying what little was left, a meeting was held between the resistance representatives around the world and all the Aburames left. I was twenty-three when we were told we had two choices, we either submitted ourselves to some examining at the hands of what top scientists had survived, or we died. Not much of a choice if you asked me.

 Some, like Shibi, chose to fight and killed hundreds before they were brought down. Most of us, though, meekly submitted to the only option that offered the possibility of life, small as it might have been. Despite what everyone said, I was human, and so what happened next should not have come as a surprise. But it did.

 We were betrayed. They took our hearts out and exchanged them for something else, a battery with a switch that could turn it on and off at will. What the Raptors had been unable to accomplish, the humans did. The Aburames were turned into slaves, living at the edge of a button always held in someone’s hand. Once more the irony of my existence did not elude me.

 

 Year 3069. I was twenty five when it happened. The Aburames found a way to block their heart-battery, to protect it from the blasted remote of our human masters. We rebelled. Of course, our numbers had dwindled, and so we couldn’t actually do more than just hide and live on the run. It was pathetic but a lot better than the treatment we had been getting from those who had alienated us. It had not been as hard as it looked. For all purposes, we looked just like any other human. As long as we kept our beetles in check and our eyes hidden –their unnatural glow would have been a big tale tell sign—we managed to get by.

 To make it less suspicious we moved in small groups. Some, like me, chose to struck out solo. Just when I had been starting to believe that we would make it, I was proven differently. There was an unforeseeable problem with the batteries that had replaced our hearts. They were dying. We were…dying.

 

 Year 3071. I was one of the last left, or so I assumed because in every Aburame safe house of every city I was in, I found no one. I could feel my battery dying as well, making my movements sluggish, and incurring restlessness in my kikai. It was rather uncomfortable given they lingered under my skin, feeding off of my own energy.

I do not know why I did it. I do not think I was thinking straight. Instead, I allowed my instincts to guide me, following them as they led me to a small city out in the middle of nowhere. I traveled through streets that, though broken and mostly destroyed, I had the feeling that I’d known before. Maybe it was from that time before my kidnapping, when I was part of those humans that now wanted me dead. I wondered if I would have been as cruel to the Aburames if I had been standing on the other side. I wondered if I would have feared them any less.

I entered a compound. I felt eyes on me the moment I stepped inside. It was dangerous, but I was dying so I didn’t care. What else could they do to me? Dead was dead.

The expressions on the faces of the people inside, I idly noted, were strange. I did not know what to make of them. They looked like they’d just seen a ghost. But I had not the time to ponder more about this. I was dying and the prospect of something important was the only thing keeping me moving. One step at a time, I reached a room at the far back. I could feel the crowd on my back, I could feel their tension and, most of all, their confusion and doubts.

 I pulled the door barring my way open. I stepped inside and… saw her. She had been bent over a machine when I’d arrived. She straightened and spun around to face me, all in one same fluid motion, telling me she was a warrior to behold. I felt a lot of things, despite the fact of my missing heart. I saw it all as though in slow motion, my eyes capturing the splendor of that creature… of that human.

 Brown hair tied in two buns on each side of her head, bangs falling down elegantly to cover her brow. Sun kissed skin hardened by fighting which still managed to look soft when the light hit it just right. Red lips that were not quite full, yet had a sensuality of their own. And her eyes. Her eyes were the brown that reminded me of the trunks of old trees. They glinted with warmth and strength and something more, something I couldn’t understand, something that gave me hope. 

 She was lovely. She was human. I wondered if once she knew what I was, like all the rest, she would want to bring me harm. But I pretended that she wouldn’t, that she didn’t think the same.

 I do not know why. I guess most of us, Aburames, have learned to live by pretending that we are still human. By telling ourselves that our unusual abilities came to be because we are humans. That humans are capable of adapting and by taking advantage of that fact, we did. We convinced ourselves that we were humans, even when those we wished to be a part of, reminded us with murders and screams and hatred that we were not.

 Except for her. She was different, part of me insisted, and I pretended that the other part of me that told me to run was not there.

 “Shino?” she called to me, her voice low and tone undecipherable. How she knew my name, I could not fathom. Stranger still was the fact that I was not surprised at this discovery. Quite the contrary, I had expected it, or part of me had, that same part that told me she would not harm me, the same part that thought she was beautiful.

 But the end was near and before I could say something, anything. Before I could touch that forbidden skin or try to elicit a smile from her lovely face, I felt myself falling to the ground. I landed flat on my face. The crunching noise that followed made me vaguely aware that something had broken, and I doubted it had only been my glasses.

-o0o-

 Year 3073. I woke to her face. When I blinked, a smile of relief quirked her lips. I did not move for a while, suddenly very unsure of myself when in her presence. I was not wearing my glasses, after all. So she knew what I was and I knew that, if she wanted to kill me, nobody would stop her. Perhaps not even me…

 But she didn’t do such a thing. I detected no hostility from her like I had from so many before on so many occasions. Her eyes fixed on me as she contemplated me in silence. When she noticed me looking and raised her gaze from where it had fallen on my bared chest, I read some kind of expectation. Did she want me to thank her? I shook my head, not sure what to say, how to go about breaching the gap of silence. I had thought that I had died and that was it. How is one to relay what it means to be brought back from the land of the dead?

 “How are you feeling?” she asked. She was close to me. I did not know whether to feel comfortable or uncomfortable. As strange as it sounded, I felt both. It was a comfort at finding myself in an unknown –and therefore uncomfortable—situation. Or something like that. Perhaps my brain had been replaced just as my heart was…

 At that thought, my eyes widened in realization. My kikai had been relaying the information from the moment I had woken, but I hadn’t been paying attention! With a trembling hand I touched my chest, the same spot she had been studying in silence. I looked back at her face. She was smiling broadly, her eyes twinkling with something that made me feel all warm inside.

 What I felt below my palm, was the beating of a heart. Not the rumbling of a battery, but the drumming beat of a real heart!  

 “You like it?” she asked, reaching down to place her hand atop mine. It was warm. I had forgotten what it was like to touch another person. It felt intimate, the action, but I knew that for her it would have been anything but. An Aburame tended to regard the sense of touch with sacred reverence. I did not take it for granted.

 “How?” I croaked, my throat awfully dry.

 She retrieved her hand and went to a small sink nearby to fill a glass with water. I missed her touch instantly, but knew better than to ask her to touch me some more. I blushed at how the thought sounded. The phrasing –even if it would have relayed what I secretly was starting to desire with a longing that baffled me-- would have worked only in undoing what she’d done and send me back to the dead. 

 “It took me two years to find you a heart. I know a thing or two about fixing things and, I have to admit, you were quite the challenge,” she confided, helping me lift my weary body into a semi-sitting position before feeding me the water. It was cool and I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was until I felt it rush down my throat. I finished that glass and two more before my thirst was somewhat quenched.  

 “Why did you help me?” I asked and, unable to help myself, I responded with what I thought she would respond in order to get things moving faster. This was something most of the other Aburames had found annoying, but I wasn’t good at lengthening things when I was searching for specific and important information. “What do I mean by that? I am an Aburame, as you surely know, and, as such, I have been proclaimed an enemy of mankind in accordance to the resistance’s laws. It is therefore strange that you would help me because you are a human and, following that logic, I would be your enemy.”

 She scowled at me, which made me flinch inwardly. Perhaps I should have tried to control my annoying quirk a bit more.

“Not all humans are the same, you know,” she said and, to my stupefaction, she tapped my forehead in a chiding gesture, quite hard. “You better just thank me and not start babbling nonsense, you hear? That’ll only get you in trouble.”   

 I touched my forehead not knowing whether to feel offended or laugh. I decided to keep solemn just to avoid making her mad any further. I do not know why, but I didn’t want to push her away with my thoughtlessness and lack of experience in dealing with a sympathizing human --one that had saved my life at that.

 Part of me told me that she was important. I figured it was because she had not only saved me but she’d procured me a heart as well. Not to mention she seemed comfortable with touching me. Heck, she had been comfortable with chiding and slapping my head despite knowing I could kill her at any time.

 That gave me pause.

 Had she betrayed me as well? Had she done something to insure she could control me? My kikai answered me right after. All was fine. Nothing had changed saved the fact that I had a real heart now. One that my kikai loved being near. Apparently it soothed the rueful creatures.

 “I apologize if I offended you,” I offered solemnly. That appeased her and she grinned at me so widely, I turned to look at the other side of the room thinking someone else had stepped inside and elicited such a reaction from her.

 She laughed at me, called me silly and then proceeded to comb my dark hair back with flexed fingers. It was so strange. The way she interacted with me… it felt right. I would have sworn that we had known each other for years, that we were close as close could be, if it wasn’t for the fact that we didn’t. I did not remember her before that day when I found her and then proceeded to die in front of her. How bizarre… What had led me to her in the first place?   

 The question slipped out of my mind when she moved towards the drawers on the other side of the room, took out some clothes, and threw them at me. I caught them in midair and realized, just then, that below the covers I was completely naked. I blushed. My mind was ruthless in reminding me that I had died with all my multiple layers of clothing on. Which, of course, meant someone had taken them off and had… had seen me as I came into this world. It was mortifying.

 As if reading my mind, the woman –what was her name?—sauntered towards me with a devilish grin plastered on her face that had my kikai buzzing not with anger but with excitement. I struggled to keep them quiet, else she would hear their buzzing alongside the rapid beating of my heart. She couldn’t, of course, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

 “Don’t worry, Shino,” she said when she reached my side. She was towering me. She was so close, that I could smell her: lime and dynamite powder and a hint of new leather. It was an intoxicating aroma that made me lightheaded. “You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”

 When she said that last, my breath caught on my throat. My every muscle tensed when I felt her fingers on my chest, languidly trailing down my abs, touching every single one of them. I fought not to moan, not to allow my instincts –that were screaming I pull her down with me—to take control.

 She must have understood my predicament because she mercifully didn’t shove her hand below the covers that were pooling at my waist. Instead, she retrieved her hand, smiled once more –a little more sweetly this time—combed my hair back once and left.  

 In the privacy I was granted, I pulled back the covers, feeling myself blush at being confronted with the evidence that the woman’s touch was maddening. I felt slightly ashamed of my body’s reaction. Only slightly. At least I had proven I had a self-control that I should be proud of. My restless mind, however, was quick to ask an important question once it escaped the haziness of my emotions and the inanity of my banal thoughts.

 How was it she knew who I was but I had no idea who she was? I only knew she was important. I was resolute in that. That bit I believed with total conviction.

 When I stepped outside, I realized that I wasn’t in the same place where I’d died. I was in an underground facility of some kind. It wasn’t too big, so I wasn’t afraid to lose my way. What I was afraid of, though, was that I would not find her.

 Baseless fears. I found her, alright. She was sitting in a chair in what, I assumed, was the kitchen area. Two plates were on the table. Having encountered no one as I’d walked around the facility, I assumed one of those meals was mine. Being hungry, I sat across from her, hoping my deductions hadn’t been wrong again.

 She smiled and took her fork and knife. Following suite I did the same. We ate in companionable silence. It was comforting not to have to struggle to say something in order to ease the awkwardness like I’d had to do with countless others. That was one of the reason I had decided to fly solo, after all. Yet, with her there was no such thing as awkwardness, none at all. 

 “Who are you?” I asked, realizing that she had yet to introduce herself to me. Or me to her, but somehow she already knew more about me than even some Aburames had. “Why do I ask? Because you seem to know me and I know nothing of you.”

 “My name’s Tenten,” she said after a pause. I was not positive, but I oddly felt as though she was disappointed. I wondered if I knew her from before. I also wondered why she hadn’t offered an explanation of why she knew my name. Before I could ask, though, she changed the subject. “What are your plans now that you have a heart?”

 I stopped eating for a while as I pondered this. Indeed, what now? Why had I wanted to have my life back in the first place when I was purposeless? I’d been purposeless ever since the Raptors left. I had never given much thought to the future. My only goal had been to stay alive, day after day.

 “I do not know,” I confided, wondering if she would allow me to stick around. I do not know why, but I had the feeling that maybe she was my purpose.

 “I see,” she said softly. Nothing more. No offer to stay and help her in whatever she did. Damn.

 “You saved my life. I owe you,” I said, emphasizing the last bit in hopes that she would take advantage of it. My life is full of ironies. I hated that the Aburames were used and here I was, hoping that she would use me too.

 She seemed to struggle for a decision. Her brown eyes scrutinized me, probably trying to determine if I’d deliberately left that opening. I had.   

 “You do owe me,” she repeated and I nodded in acceptance, in encouragement. “I’m a mercenary and I take odd jobs here and there… I could use a partner like you.” I must confess I perked at that. She’d called me a partner, an equal. “What do you say? We would split whatever money we get. Half and half.”

 I would have done it for free if it meant getting to know her more. I reached out and shook the hand she was offering me. What a peculiar woman. She had no idea what touch meant to an Aburame. Touch meant trust.

-o0o-

 Year 3074. We’d been working together for a year. Each day has become precious to me, even those that were spent lounging on a bar somewhere, waiting for our next contract.

 On one of those such days, I saw her step into the lounging area in our underground apartment –the same apartment I had woken to my new life, the same apartment she’d insisted we called Konoha. She was grinning at me wickedly as she handed me ‘my uniform’. Right. We had talked about getting some uniforms. I admit I thought she had been joking.

 Curious to know what she’d gotten me, I unfolded it and realized that she’d forgotten to add a shirt. Unfazed, I pointed it out, only to have her smile widen even more. I stared at her for a while, wondering what she was trying to get at. When all she did was encourage me to put it on, I sighed and went to change.

 My outfit consisted on tight black, leather pants with green designs on the inside and outside of my thighs and a long light green leather trench coat, with –I must point out again-- no shirt underneath. Who even thought of this? I came out of the bathroom with cheeks blushing and… blushed even more when I found her clad in her new outfit. At least, I was not the only one displaying quite a bit of skin. Tenten’s lower half was covered in a wine colored half-pants/half-shorts designed wear which hugged her body, leaving every curve of her shapely legs and hips and bu—ahem, more in display. She was also wearing a low cut blouse that left her midriff exposed with a leather white jacket on top.

 “Why?” Was all I could ask and I slapped my face when that one word came out as a dry croak. “And do not give me crap about freedom of movement. I can move the same and just as fast with a shirt on.”

 She smiled, “But look!” she pointed at a kikai that had decided to come to the surface and was now resting in my chest. Darn, that treacherous creature. If I didn’t feel their pain when hurt, I would have squashed it. “Your bugs agree with me! Less clothes means they can come out faster.” I looked at her with skepticism. She laughed. “Okay, okay!” she raised her hands in surrender. “Having us looking like this will book us more jobs.”

 “I fail to see the connection,” I pointed out, crossing my arms. The only good thing about the outfit that I could see, was the fact that Tenten’s eyes kept moving down my body. It boosted my ego. Of course, on the downside, I myself could barely keep my eyes off of her too. But that was normal, part of me reminded and I sighed in defeat, massaging the back of my neck absentmindedly.

 “You would be surprised at how many people will go for the mercenaries that look yummy when they need something done,” Tenten said, her tone low and almost husky. It made me gulp. She was yummy alright, which just made me wonder even more why I was made to wear this.

 Her eyes admiring my abs, however, was answer enough so I relented with a sigh. “If you say so, then I’ll wear this.”

 “If I had any say in the matter,” she said, moving towards me, “then you would wear nothing.”

 I glared at her through my blush. She laughed. I loved her laughter but sometimes… she was infuriating. I was sure she knew how I reacted to her flirtations, my blush was indication enough. It wasn’t that her flirtations were unwelcomed what made me uncomfortable, but the fact that I was afraid to hope that they were true, that she really wanted something –way past friendship-- with me.

 “Come, Shino,” she said charmingly. “I apologize if I offended you.” I wasn’t offended, but if she felt the need to apologize, then what was her intention? No matter how much I tried, I could not understand her entirely. She was an enigma wrapped in another enigma wrapped in a body I wanted to ravish so very much!   

 “I’m not offended,” I said with another sigh. That, at least, made her smile.

 She closed the distance between us and, to my surprise, she placed her hand on my chest, her palm right above where my heart was. I gulped again. Damn it! I was sure that she would comment on the increased beating of my heart, probably say something perverted which would deepen my blush and my frustration. But she didn’t. And when I looked at her, I saw the sweetest expression I’ve ever seen. She closed her eyes, as if lulled by my heart.

 “It’s beautiful,” she said. I gave in to my instincts and placed a hand atop hers. Déjà vu. It was exactly like the time I discovered I had a human heart. I’d placed a hand on my chest on that occasion and she’d placed hers atop. It was still warm, her touch. Warm and comforting and welcomed and desired...

 “You’re beautiful,” I acknowledged before I could stop myself. My breath caught in my throat. I am an idiot. It doesn’t matter what she says, she is still human and I am, according to everyone, not. I’d thought that surely I’d offended her! But I hadn’t. Instead she grinned and, to my stunned surprise, this time it was I who elicited a blush that covered her cheeks. I wanted to whoop but it would have been unlike me. So I just smirked.

 She caught it and tapped my forehead, but her laugh indicated that she wasn’t mad. After that she left to check our inbox. I couldn’t help myself. As she walked away, my eyes roved through her body and stayed particularly entranced on her perky ass. A tsk tsk sound made me look up at her face. She was wearing that mischievous smile, her eyes twinkling, her cheeks slightly blushed. It didn’t matter, apparently, that I was wearing my dark glasses, she knew where my eyes had been. I groaned inwardly, blushing madly. I had been caught… for the first time and probably not the last. Not if she was going to be wearing that from now on.  

 “See!” She called out happily, “our clients won’t be able to take their eyes off of us! We’ll get tons of bookings in no time!”

-o0o-

 Year 3077. The days rolled by and then the weeks and the months and the years. I had turned thirty-three. Tenten, I had learned, was one year younger. I found that I had never before been more at peace or more happy. I enjoyed spending every day with this strange woman that the more I got to know the more she surprised me.

 I eventually got more comfortable with her flirtations to the point that I joined in her banter, not enough times to have my words become predictable, but enough to make her blush and throw her off her game.

 I hate to admit it, but we did get more bookings after our change in attire. The downside was that she got ogled a lot, which was something that did not sit all that well with me, to the point that, one time, I almost got my kikai to attack a man. Tenten, thankfully, had stopped me before I blew up my cover. Nobody, save her and a few trusted friends of hers, knew that I was an Aburame.

 After that close encounter, she made it a point to glare at whoever had his eyes on her for too long. That, at least, was a victory I attained. Of course, she often asked me to zip-up my trench coat if the client who had requested us was a woman. I did it, partly because I could deny her nothing but mostly because I did not like people’s eyes on me –unless they were Tenten’s, then that was okay. Because, at some point in time, I wanted her eyes on me and me alone. I told myself it was because it made my kikai happy, but I cannot escape the truth that lies within my own heart.

 It made me happy as well.

 I found something interesting about Tenten as we got accustomed to one another. Sometimes when we were resting or just lounging around waiting for a job, she would approach me and touch my chest, the spot where my heart is. She never said anything. She just did it and I allowed it because it felt right. It was a ritual of sorts, one that was sacred, and more than once I found myself wondering where she’d gotten the heart.

 Who had it belong to? It had to be someone important to her, part of me said. I struggled not to feel jealous of this phantom that would dare come between us. This phantom that would put that melancholy in her face, those unshed tears in her eyes. But I never asked. I was afraid that if I opened that box, I would never be able to close it. What if by asking I reminded her of that person and she left me altogether, alone and wanting for something that I could not have?

 So in silence I allowed her hand to feel my heart, relishing in its warmth. And sometimes, when I felt bold and that ugly jealousy was under control, I would place my hand atop hers. I never took her hand, though. I couldn’t bear the thought of offending her in some way if I tried. The last I ever wanted was to make her uncomfortable. I would not be able to bear it if I pushed her away, if she left me alone and forgotten in a world that hated me.

 

By the middle of that year, Tenten came to me with news that we had a job to do. I was confused by her attitude. She was tensed all over and her face displayed a solemnity which had me sweating. This could not be good. She’d never accepted a job that would make either her or me uncomfortable, so I couldn’t help but wonder what had changed. What type of job had she been forced to accept that could drive all her positive energy down the drain?

 In unusual solemnity, I followed her to the small jet. After a lot of savings we’d managed to buy a jet that I had thought useless when I’d seen the sorry state it was in. But Tenten had seen the potential, just like she’d seen the potential in me. And, like me, she’d worked on it, upgraded it and cared for it until it looked like it did today, like the newest piece of technology that was out in the markets.

 We took our seats, her the pilot with me as the co-pilot. We strapped ourselves on and she pulled the bird –she decided to call ANBU in honor of the resistance squad she’d worked with back during the alien war—into the air.

 “Is something wrong?” I started and upon silence, I added, “Why do I ask? Because you’ve been unusually silent and you haven’t briefed me on the mission yet. Normally that would have been done back in our Konoha.”

 Like I said before, Konoha was what she insisted we called our apartment and headquarters. As silly as the notion was, I relented and called it that myself, if only to make her happy.

 She turned to me and gave me a tight smile that indicated she was sorry for making me worry. It did nothing to alleviate my concern, however.

 Turning back to the clouds ahead, she proceeded to explain, “There’s a research facility somewhere near the Earth country. The scientists there are delving into… matters that could potentially be disastrous to the Fire government and every other government in the rest of the world. They have to be stopped ASAP, and the best way to do it,” she glanced at me, as if to make sure I was paying attention, “is to destroy the entire thing.”

 My eyebrows rose. She wanted to destroy a building with people inside it? Tenten had never been one to wish to hurt someone, so this meant that whatever these people were doing was bad enough to make her discard her ethics. My worry increased, but so did my resolution.

 I trusted Tenten. If she said these people were bad, then I would destroy them all without batting an eye.

 “How are we doing this?” I asked her.

 “We infiltrate and rig the place. I have enough bombs to bring it to the ground,” she responded and I could tell she was relieved that I had not argued with her about our objective.

 We each kept to ourselves during the rest of the trip. When we arrived, we parked the ANBU some ways away, hidden by a big mountain. We took a motorcycle we had stored on the back and rode –with her piloting and me hanging on to her by her waist—towards the facility. We left the bike hidden under some trees and proceeded to commence our infiltration.

 Tenten had studied the building thoroughly and so she took the lead and I obediently followed. I was a bit upset that she hadn’t given me more information as to the layout but knew better than to bring it up right now. We communicated with hand signals, disabling alarms and security cameras as we went.

 

 After what felt like hours, we finally reached the central room. We waited patiently inside one of the air vents until the scientists filed out to get lunch, like Tenten knew they would. I couldn’t see the room from where I was, so I instead entertained myself by staring at Tenten’s ass. I was glad that she was too busy looking at what was happening in the room, that I was not caught as I feasted on her curvaceous body. My kikai agreed, buzzing excitedly in my chest.

 “Okay, they’ve gone,” Tenten said and proceeded in kicking the vent open and sliding out. She moved, like liquid, towards the security camera and managed to pull a bullet through it before it finished sweeping the room.

 “Good job,” I commended, jumping down behind her. All other words, however, died in my throat when I saw the room. It looked strikingly similar to how the alien ship had looked on the inside. The equipment was… it was the same!

 “Shino?” Tenten was besides me, a hand on my shoulder.

 “What the fuck!” I gritted out, anger swelling in me, prompting my kikai to come out and buzz around us like a cloud of dark feelings.

 “Shino I--”

 “You knew!” I hissed at her and I immediately regretted my tone because she flinched and backed away, as if afraid that I would slap her. I would never do that. I would never hurt her. “I’m sorry,” I said, raking a hand through my hair. The tension in my body was making me stiff all over.

 “No, I’m sorry, Shino,” she said, placing a hand on my chest, on the spot where my heart was drumming. “I should have told you before but I…”

 “You did not trust me,” I offered bitterly.

 Her eyes widened and both her hands cupped my face, forcing me to look at her. There were tears in her eyes. It broke my heart to see them there.

 “I was afraid I would hurt you,” she said, then pointing at the room she added, more fiercely, “I was afraid this would hurt you! I hate this just as much as you do! This is why we need to destroy it!”

 For me. She was doing it all for me. She was discarding her ethics and her morals, she was willing to murder and destroy for me. To keep me from hurting. I wanted to hug her and cry and tell her just how much she had come to mean to me.

 But I didn’t. We had a job to do.

 “Then destroy it we will,” I said with resolution. She smiled at me with utmost relief and went to work while I checked out the rest of the laboratory. I stopped when I saw a steely pod. I ventured closer and, curious, peered inside through the one window it sported. My blood drained out of my face and my Kikai buzzed even more furiously as my emotions spiraled into the depths of an ocean of despair.

 Inside that tube, unmoving and unchanged, almost dissected in a strange green liquid, was the naked body of Shibi Aburame. I must have screamed or something because my throat ached and Tenten was beside me in a blink. She pulled me away from the horrible pod and turned me to face her.

 “Shino, are you alright?” she asked but I wasn’t alright. I pulled her to me fiercely. She gasped but returned the embrace, not as tightly, more unsure. “Shino, what’s wrong?”

 I couldn’t speak. All I could do was mumble that they’d used him like the raptors had. I do not know if she understood, but she combed my hair and made me feel better by just being there, listening to my incoherent babbling. After a while, though, she pulled away forcefully and reminded me that time was ticking. She said she had finished placing the bombs and that we needed to leave before the scientists returned.

 I followed her in a haze. She started the timer in the main bomb the moment I crawled into the vent. I gave her a hand and pulled her up and together we retraced our steps, hoping that we would make out it in time. We were almost at the exit, when Tenten said she needed to put one more bomb in place. I stared at her as though she was crazy, we were running out of time. But she insisted that she could make it.

 I was about to go with her when she ordered me to get the bike and be ready when she came out. Knowing that time was of the essence, and thinking that it was our best choice to do as she asked, I made her promise that she would come out in time before parting ways. Some of my Kikai went with her with orders to keep her safe no matter what.

 I got the bike and waited and waited and waited. I was just about to fuck it all and go back inside, when I saw her rushing out. She was not alone. I felt the Kikai that were with her die, their connection lost to me as they tried to keep the guards that were following her away. I send more Kikai to help her escape, but it was too late. A guard took hold of Tenten’s arm and kept her from getting away from the building in time to avoid the explosion.

 I found myself lying on my back, a scream in my throat. And then everything came back to me in a rush. I knew her. I knew Tenten from before. Before my kidnapping and my transformation! How could I have forgotten her?!

 We were on the same ANBU squad. I was leader and she was my second in command. More than that, she was my friend, my girlfriend, the holder of my heart. We’d met when I was ten. We were quick to become close, to watch each other’s backs. When I was fourteen, I told her how I felt and she confided she felt the same. I had fallen in love with her. Hard.

 We were together ever since. She was always there for me, keeping me safe and whole and happy despite the aliens invading and destroying and killing. When I was fifteen, I promised I would marry her when the war was over. She had laughed and kissed me and told me that she would accept.

 She’d placed her hand on my chest that day, just like she did every time before we left for a mission. It was a ritual to remind me that my heart was hers and that, as such, I should keep it safe. The same day I told her I would marry her, was the day I got kidnapped and changed and my memory –my sweet memory of her was lost.

 She had been lost to me. Until the day when again I found myself in the brink of death and my soul –in the absence of my heart—brought me back to her.

 I felt tears streaming down my face at the realization. I could hear the beating of my heart in my temples. I knew –I simply knew!—that the heart in my chest was my own. It beat only for her. And so, the one who had placed that melancholy in her face, those tears in her eyes whenever she’d placed her hand on my chest, was me! It was my own phantom that she missed!

 It was me!

 I jumped to my feet and moved to where I’d last seen here. There was fire and devastation and no Tenten in sight. My heart was beating a mile per second as I started moving things around, trying to find her within the debris. After an eternity, I did. She was still alive and awake and very much hurting. The arm the guard had grabbed was lost below a large, heavy-looking rock of concrete. Apart from that it looked like her personal shields had taken the blunt of the attack.

 “Shino,” she called weakly. I assured her I would get her out and then tried to move that one big rock that was pinning her in place. But I couldn’t. I hissed and cursed and pushed and pulled, but the damn rock would not move. “You have to go,” she told me and I glared.

 “Not a chance in hell I’m leaving you,” I hissed angrily. “Not when at last I remember!” Her eyes widened and I saw hope swirling in their honey depths. “I remember, Koishi,” I grabbed her free hand and placed it on my chest. I could feel her trembling. “I remember my heart belongs to you.”

 She cried. I’ve never seen her cry like this before. I wanted to hug her, but I was afraid to hurt her if I tried to move her. I was also keenly aware that someone must have heard the explosion and at any moment an army would be here, but I couldn’t leave her. I couldn’t. I knew that they would torture her and kill her and my heart couldn’t take it.

 She gulped and her trembling increased. The hand that I was still holding turned as cold as ice. She seemed to be fighting with what she had to say next, but she eventually did.

 “Cut it,” she said so low that I almost didn’t catch it.

 “What?” I asked.

 She looked at me, fire dancing in her eyes, and then looked at the arm that was chaining her to the wreckage, “Cut it.”

 “Are you insane?!” I blurted, tightening my hold on her wrist.  

 “It’s the only way,” she argued hotly.

 I thought about it. It was true. It was the only way. But could I do it? Could I hack my beloved? Part of me told me that it was either that or letting her die. Not much of a choice, but I knew that a one armed Tenten was better than none. I nodded to her and unbuckled one of my belts. I put it in her mouth and she bit on it and closed her eyes. My other belt I used it to make a tourniquet just above the wound. Tears were falling, clearing paths in the dirt coating her cheeks.

 I clenched my jaw and took out a pocket laser that I knew could cut anything as though it was butter. I’d never cut a limb with it, but I knew that if anything could cut it swiftly, it would be this.

 “Do it!” Tenten ordered through gritted teeth, her tone muffled but still strong.  

 “I love you.” I told her stupidly.

 She smiled through her tears, “You have horrible timing.”

 I nodded, “You ready?”

 She looked at me and shook her head. I waited to see what she wanted.

“I love you,” she echoed, tears streaming down at a faster pace. I smiled at her, my heart jumping at her confession then breaking at what I had to do. “Okay, now I’m ready.”

 I nodded to her, bent down to kiss her cheek and the tears rolling down, before cutting her limb. Her hoarse scream pierced the night as aptly as it pierced my heart.

-o0o-

 Year 3078. I was right beside her when she woke. It had been a month since the explosion. She smiled lazily up at me, I smiled right back. Tsunade in combination with Maito Gai and his adoptive son Rock Lee, had performed a miracle on her. I could hardly believe my beloved was still alive.

Tenten’s smile froze and I knew she had moved her arm. She looked down at it not with the fear I had expected, but with wonder. She moved each finger and twisted her wrist experimentally.

 “How?” she asked entranced by her steely limb.

 I smiled, “You like it?”

 She laughed and I was utterly relieved. She was alright. She was alright!

 “So, you asked her yet?” Tsunade interrupted us as she stepped inside, Gai and Lee on tow. The two men were wearing glinting smiles and tearful eyes. Tenten quirked an eyebrow in confusion and slight distrust. I could not blame her, they tended to go overboard with any sort of good news.

 Telling myself it was now or never, I took her chin and tilted her head so that she would look at me and me only. When I was sure I had her complete attention, I said, “Would you marry me, Tenten?”

Her eyes widened. The shock that should have come from finding herself a cyborg came instead at my question. I held my breath, not really knowing what she would say despite the fact that I had asked her this before, a lifetime ago. But back then I was not an Aburame. Even if I told myself differently, this did change things.

 She sat up to hug me and the covers started falling, threatening to provide everyone a good image of her ample bosom. I had quick reflexes, though, and managed to catch the blanket in time to cover her modestly. She was too happy to blush at what had happened and instead proceeded to pulled me into a bear hug. I chuckled, feeling my heart singing for her.

 “I thought you’d never remember,” she told me in a tenuous whisper that relayed so many things --things I wanted to find out. Our audience made a hasty retreat, but I could hear their whooping just outside. I smiled at Tenten and kissed her passionately on the lips, just like I knew she had been waiting for all this time. She melted on my arms and I forgot the fact that she was naked as I pressed down on her.

 It was time I let her know in body as well as in soul, how much I never stopped loving her.     

 

::FINIS::

Story Written by: Giselle González

© Naruto (and the characters therein) is property of Masashi Kishimoto.