Disclaimer: Despite what your local coroner says, I am still alive. Whether I've been raised from the dead or I've been here all along I forget, but I do know that I still don't own Naruto.
Author's Note: So since I've been gone (I had tons of stuff keeping me busy: work, holidays, getting married; you know, the usual stuff) I've seen that they added this beta reader option. Frankly this is a great idea. I don't know how many times I've mailed out my story to people in advance of posting it, and while it's always come back better, I felt was something that could have been sponsored by FanFiction. Anyway, while I praise the idea, I have no friggen clue how it works. Also, since I've been gone soo long I feel too embarassed to send out my story to my old friends; I'm sure they've moved on from interest in this story by now. So here's my idea: I've read over it a couple times now, and I know there's probabably a lot of mistakes. If you catch them send me a message/email them to me and I'll be sure to fix it right away. Sorry for the mistakes in advance!
Throughout nature, there are many creatures that use their looks as tools for survival. For instance, scarlet snakes are said to have their stripe pattern mimic that of the poisonous coral snake in order to deter predators. Other animals, such as the chameleon, use the color of their skin as camouflage; their intention is not to frighten their enemy, but rather to carry on in disguise. In this way, their outer appearance works as a natural defense to keep them out of danger.
Both of these principals, intimidation and subtlety, have importance in the ninja as well. Whether a ninja carries large, formidable weapons or sports a huge frame with massive muscles, their appearance is used to give them an edge in battle. On the opposite side of the coin, not all missions are completed with strength alone, and this idea is what causes the need for ninjas skilled in obscurity; ninjas who are trained to be untraceable.
Hyuuga Hanabi however exhibits neither of these traits.
The object that Hanabi reminds Neji of most is a sundew. Like the meaning of her name, the sundew is a fire colored flower. Both Hanabi and the sundew are slight in size, both are visually striking, and the plum shaded petals of the sundew's flower bare a strong resemblance to the color of her eyes. What's more is that like the sundew, Hanabi is deceptively dangerous.
Below the pretty petals of the carnivorous plant waits the multi-stalked tentacles. The stalks secrete a sweet, dew-like substance to lure their prey in which, in turn ensnares them in the sticky secretions.
Hanabi's small stature and graceful looks would be sure to work the same way. Any person who saw her as an enemy would be sure to underestimate her abilities. For sure the over-confident opponent wouldn't fear getting too close and would fall susceptible to her masterful use of jyuuken. After less than a handful of successful strikes the enemy would be ensnared by an inescapable defeat.
Standing across from her now, Neji had to constantly remind himself not to lower his guard against the girl. They'd been sparring for the better part of an hour now, and while Neji had the position of a mentor, he was constantly being surprised by her. From the start of the first fight he hadn't noticed anything peculiar, but with every subsequent fight Hanabi was pushing her speed and reaction time faster and faster, and in a style of combat that required very little physical prowess, speed was definitely a mark of strength.
He'd begun to wonder if Hanabi was testing to see if her elder cousin would become complacent in fighting; checking if he'd settle on the idea of her level of speed, and what he'd do if she surpassed it suddenly. For being young, Hanabi was a tactician beyond her years.
She was four paces away from him as they sparred inside the Hyuuga's training dojo, a place they'd retreated to in order to escape the glare of the sun on this near cloudless day. And while they were free from the reach of the sun bearing down on the backs of their necks, the heat of the day was still prevalent due to the stuffy nature of the dojo. Even though all of the sliding doors and windows were open, the lack of a breeze made the room seem like a sauna.
While he might never have put words to the idea before, Neji had to admit Hanabi was a very talented and intelligent fighter. Sure, he'd known for some time now that she was a quick learner of the jyuuken, and that her bloodline limit was close to his own, but standing opposite her now in combat was something altogether new. She never tried the same attack pattern twice, if it failed once then it was sure to fail again, and if it succeeded once, then she knew Neji wouldn't let it happen a second time.
For the last five minutes Hanabi was the definition of motionless, and Neji knew exactly what she was doing because he was doing it himself. Both the Hyuuga were intensively thinking out their next strategy while patiently waiting for an opening.
For a moment, Neji let his mind slip away and thought about how this was a nice distraction. The sparring so far had given his mind a reprieve from his nightmares at night and the depressive thoughts caused by the actions of the day. It wasn't a split second later that he steeled his fighting resolve, a response to a twinkle in Hanabi's eyes that showed that she almost used his mind wandering as an opportunity to start a decisive attack. But even though he refocused his mind to the fight at hand, the opening she'd seen in him was still a glimmer in her eyes.
Just then, a small bead of sweat rolled down the center of Neji's forehead, slide to the left side of his nose and into the corner of his uncovered eye. Before he was midway through a blink, Hanabi was on the balls of her feet charging forward.
Before Tenten stood the oversized, thick, solid oak double doors and wall surrounding the Hyuuga compound. And no matter that they were a village in the center of a dense forest; Tenten still thought this was going too far. Of course, every time she saw a token of prestige like this from the Hyuuga, she always had to remind herself that naturally there were perks to being one of the village's founding families. But she also knew that as a whole, the Hyuuga's weren't exactly a boastful bunch, it's just that they got to modestly enjoy a few status symbols most of Konoha didn't have.
After three consecutive 'bangs' of using the door's knocker, footsteps could be heard over the wall. Seconds later the heavy door creaked ajar, opened by one of the Hyuuga branch members that Tenten didn't know. The actual opening had a funny way of letting light through gap in the doors. Though she knew it was simply a matter of it being early in the morning, the effect of the high walls and position of the sun made it seem like the Hyuuga kept the sunlight to themselves when you stood outside the compound.
The person attending the door gave Tenten an even look, and waited for her to speak her business.
"Yes, I'm here to speak with Neji please."
"I'm sorry; Neji is unavailable at this moment. Please come again at another time." And immediately the door began to audibly protest its groans as it started to close.
Through the quickly slimming space between the doors, Tenten spoke up, trying to get a word in before she was completely dismissed.
"Please wait, I'm just here to check up on him. I'm his squad mate you know! I just want to see if he's okay." Her voice bordered on the line between impatient and anxious but it wasn't enough to get the sympathy or approval of the door attendant.
It was at the last second that she was able to catch a familiar face, to which she called out for help.
The doors slammed their way home ending with their sides nearly flush against one another. Through the slight crack she was able to make out a line of sight showing Hinata quietly walking her way towards the door. Tenten took a step back away, and looked up to the top of the wall; a vein attempt that she somehow believed would help her hear what was taking place better.
It was a few moments of silence that made her countenance fade from hope to disappointment, but it took only an instant of watching the door reopen that brought a smile to her face.
Hinata stood waiting on the other side of the door with a polite smile, her hands clasped together in front of her as usual. Both women waited for the door to be completely open before speaking, and while she was hopeful as to what the Hyuuga heiress would say, Tenten stood outside the door waiting for a specific response.
"Good morning Tenten-san, shall we go see Neji-niisan now?"
"He confessed?!" Hinata's already high pitched voice went up a notch with shock.
"Um, well, sort of."
Tenten's eyes sank to the ground with embarrassment. She asked herself yet again how she gotten to the point of letting a member of the Hyuuga ask her personal questions. Each of them were as perceptive as a lie-detector, and worst of all it was Hinata administering the test. Hinata with her quiet, unassuming self could ask the most devious questions in such a polite manner as to evoke the truth out of even the best secret keeping ninja. Tenten swore that Hinata had to have picked up knowledge extracting training on par with that of Hibiki Sensei.
"Well that is quite something..." Though surprised, Hinata didn't seem to break stride at all as they toured the hallways that led to the dojo.
Tenten agreed with the statement, though for completely different reasons. It had started with the completely appropriate question as to why Tenten was coming to see Neji. When she'd responded that she was checking up on a hurt teammate, Hinata stopped in her tracks. Apparently, by the look on Hinata's face, that answer wasn't sufficient enough of a reason to see him; something the Hyuuga elder's cooked up Tenten was sure. When Hinata suggested that Tenten could be there for a more personal matter, as no one said it was a forbidden reason, Tenten took the bait hook, line and sinker, and the slippery slope to revealing everything to Hinata was what ensued.
"So what do you think about Neji-niisan?"
Hinata had such an innocent face to be asking all these devious questions.
"What do you mean?" Tenten was working hard to keep from stammering. "He's the leader of my squad..."
Hinata stopped for a moment and spun on Tenten. It didn't take the inspection of the byakkugan to see that Tenten was holding back the truth. The weapon's mistress was caught, and she knew it.
"Ahem, let me rephrase then. How do you feel about Neji-niisan?" It was the stressing of the word "feel" that let Tenten knew there was no escape.
"Ah geez," Tenten doesn't have a mirror in front of her to confirm it, but she can definitely tell her cheeks are heating up and going red. "Listen, we all go through kunoichi training enough to know that intense situations can make your emotions go hay-wire. What if that's all it was to Neji? What's if that's all it was to me?"
"So your emotions are going hay-wire for Neji-niisan?"
The crimson that painted Tenten's face was the admittance Hinata's aim was dead on. But before she could gain the composure to respond to the pointed question, Hinata stopped again.
"There he is..." With a nod Hinata pointed to the open door to the dojo. It seemed like the interrogation would finally be over, and Tenten was glad to not have her heart under the microscope without having first had a chance to understand it herself.
"Thank you Hinata."
Tenten smiled and walked quickly across the small courtyard to the dojo, glad to be out of the clutches of Hinata's knowing eyes. Just as she was almost in the clear, nearly steps away from the spar taking place, Hinata's voice reached out to everyone nearby.
Tenten didn't have to turn to know that Hinata was wearing a well-meaning smile. Well-meaning or not, the comment was an arrow through the heart. Tenten could feel the blood rushing to her head again, and now that Hinata had caught Neji's attention, she knew that her blushing was spotted too.
In the middle of parrying an attack, Neji turned to Tenten and asked ignorantly, "Good luck for what?"
PS. I still am very interested in this betareader thing, but I'd really like to have someone familiar with this story to beta read for it. I write in a unique (read: probably grammatically incorrect) style for this story and while I'm open to suggestions on fixing what's bad, I'd like to keep with the same aesthetic.
PPS. I hope you enjoyed my attempts at fluff. It's only going to get worse I'm sure. So enjoy (if that's what you fluff lovers do) it while it lasts. I gotta get back to some action after a chapter or two or I'll be scarred for life.
PPS. As with most authors trying to guage whether or not a story / their writing is worth continuing I've been sitting here hoping for any feedback. Be kind, please review.