Author's Notes: Well, I must say that I've had way too much fun writing this. This story just sort of poured out of me, as you probably guessed from the quick updates. I would like to thank everyone who reviewed, you certainly kept my muse on the run. ;) This fic leaves off on a rather hopeful note which is something I wanted to do. No definite resolution but you can fill in the happily ever after. I also wanted to leave it open enough for me to write companion fics if I ever get the inspiration.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Thank you.
Tilting At Windmills
Neji looked up from packing their things when Tenten hobbled into the room, awkwardly wielding the crutch he had forced her to use. She still looked haggard, her skin much too pale, her eyes much to big, but she was once again the ninja he was familiar with, her hair up in its usual style complete with forehead protector. Still, his eyes could pick up the bulge of bandages beneath her clothes, the one around her thing quite obvious. She moved with the stiffness of someone who was trying not to inflict too much pain on themselves and he looked away, annoyed.
"Sit down before you hurt yourself. I don't want to have to redo your bandages."
She smiled at him despite his tone and made her way over to the bed, resting against it with a tired sigh as she watched him fill their packs. They would be going home that afternoon, making the day long trip back to Konoha and to their everyday lives. Of course, they would wait until they found out what Ishin decided to do about Nanabi's situation before leaving, but Neji had a feeling that judgment would be handed down soon since father and daughter had been discussing it for the last half hour. He glanced briefly over at Tenten.
"No, they're still talking. Mikuro is a mess." She made a sympathetic face but he rose, scoffing. Reading his expression, she shook her head. "You can't blame him for what happened, Neji. He's not a ninja, he couldn't help me." She reached to touch his arm as he passed, stopping him in his tracks. "Besides, I'm too stubborn. He never had a chance."
Neji turned his colorless eyes on her. "You always were a bit too proud."
She made a disgruntled noise and dropped her hand. "Me? Are you sure you're not talking about yourself, Hyuuga?" She grinned slightly to show him she was teasing, leaning forward to stand with her crutch. "As soon as I see a medical-nin I'll be as good as new anyway."
He stood there, not touching her, simply letting his gaze tell her everything. "Good, because I'll need a training partner."
Her expression softened and she smiled sweetly. "Yes."
They found out an hour later that Nanabi's and Kei's engagement had been called off. Once Ishin had learned the Hizakis had had no qualms about kidnapping her and seriously wounding one of the ninjas he had sent to find her, he had thrown the marriage contract in the fire without regrets. He and Nanabi had also come to an understanding about Mikuro, who would be allowed to court her as long as she promised never to run away again.
It was the easiest promise Nanabi had ever made.
"I want to thank you," she told Tenten as she and Neji prepared to leave. "I know I would be with Kei right now and Mikuro might be dead if it wasn't for you. Thank you for saving us." She bowed deeply and Tenten smiled.
"I only did what I wanted to do," she replied, and turned her attention to Ishin-san. Without a word, she shuffled over to him on her crutch and stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. He blinked at her in surprise.
"If I saved Nanabi, then you saved both of us." She tilted her head to include Neji who was behind her, carrying both of their packs once again. "Thank you."
She moved away before he could question her, not wanting to explain that if it hadn't been for Ishin-san, she and Neji might never have become as close as they were. Waving goodbye over her shoulder, she drew even with her teammate and they started off, Neji reducing his pace to match hers.
She sighed a little to herself as they left the town, wondering what it would be like now that they were going back. Neji glanced over at her, his face curiously expressionless and she smiled reassuringly.
"I'm alright. I was just thinking."
"About what?" he asked, and she felt her eyebrows rise. Hyuuga Neji showing interest? Well, she wasn't going to let it go to waste, especially since her answer concerned him.
"About how much I enjoyed this mission." She grinned suddenly, lifting her crutch. "Well, I won't miss the injuries, but I will miss our… teamwork."
"We're still teammates. There will be other missions."
She shook her head, realizing she wasn't explaining herself very well. "I know, it's just…" She gave in, her expression cheerful. "Ah, it doesn't matter. You're right. There'll be other missions." Concentrating on walking with her crutch, she didn't realize Neji had stopped until she was several feet away. She looked back at him, confused. "Neji, what…?'
But he was already walking towards her, something purposeful in his stride. Her eyes widened as he stopped very close to her, looking down into her face, one hand coming up to touch her cheek hesitantly.
"You're still with me," he said, and she realized it was an echo of what he had told her the night he had kissed her.
You're with me.
She blushed despite herself. "I'm always with you. Even when I'm not."
Something in his face relaxed. "Then there's nothing to worry about." His hand dropped to her shoulder.
"I..I wasn't worrying! I.." But she was cut off as he pulled her forward, leaning down to kiss her for the second time, his hair sliding forward to shield her. This time he wasn't gentle, but possessive, and she secretly wondered if the little kiss she had given Ishin-san had made him jealous. She laughed low in her throat and kissed him back just as passionately, her free arm curling around his neck, both of them breathless when they broke apart. Leaning against him, she rested her head against the flat planes of his chest, all her concerns suddenly having disappeared. As long as she could be near him, she would be alright.
His hands gripped her elbows gently. "It's going to take too long with you walking. You're going to get tired."
"What?" She moved backwards slightly as he dropped their packs behind a tree, concealing them from view. He then took her crutch from her, forcing her to hold on to him. "Neji…"
"We'll fly home," he told her, "I'll take you." In seconds he had lifted her on his back, her arms around his neck as she grimaced against the strain on her leg. It was better than walking, and they'd be able to get home before dark, but she was definitely going to need new bandages by then.
"What about our packs?"
"I'll send Lee back for them."
She smacked his shoulder lightly. "Neji!"
He smirked at her and then they were off, speeding through the forest from tree limb to tree limb, Neji's arms hooked securely behind her knees. She relaxed against him, knowing his chakra reserve could sustain both of them until they reached Konoha. Suitably reassured and with Neji's solid presence like a safety net around her, Tenten laid her head against her partner's shoulder and fell asleep.
She didn't wake until they reached the gates of the village, Neji kneeling down so she could slide off him sleepily. The sun was just setting in the west as she once again slipped the crutch under her arm and she suddenly found herself glad to be home. Here was where all her friends and family were, her teachers, her sensei. Neji.
She looked over at him only to find him looking back the way they had come. He wasn't on alert as if he had sensed something. No, he looked like he was simply contemplating something, his eyes hiding his thoughts. And she understood. They would be walking into Konoha as different people than when they left. They had fulfilled their mission as ninja but the events that had happened to them had shifted things. For the better.
It would still take some getting used to though, so she stood quietly while he reflected. When he finally came back to her, she only smiled.
"Going to the hospital?" he asked, and she nodded.
"I'll go report to the Hokage."
She nodded again and they turned to walk through the gates together. When it came time for them to go their separate ways, she let her free hand briefly grip his, very aware they were in public, and felt something warm flutter in her stomach when he squeezed her fingers in return.
There had been a promise in his touch.
"I'll need your help tomorrow," he said as they turned to part. She smiled inwardly, knowing that to Neji, tomorrow could also mean forever.
"Flails or fuuma shuriken?"
She'd take forever.