Itonami: Revised and edited for any mistakes. Hopefully, there won't be too much mistakes like last time.
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Naruto.
Hyuuga Neji looked at the time. Putting on his ANBU mask, he bid farewell to Hiashi and Hinata, then disappeared quickly to the place of his ANBU meeting. Now it was five years since the unsuccessful mission of the attempt to bring back Uchiha Sasuke, and two years ago that the second mission failed. But his achievements since then were quite impressive: ANBU captain, accomplished, elite jounin, honored by the Godaime herself, and he was the only exception made from the Branch Family to be accepted as a Main Branch member in his clan.
"You're pretty late, Neji. Did something go wrong?" A voice asked him as he reached the destination.
The Hyuuga looked at his friend coldly. "No, Hiashi-sama just wanted to wish us good luck."
Rock Lee chuckled, obviously amused. His appearance did not change one bit, though he did grow a foot taller. Neji was there when he was awarded with top honors as a taijutsu specialist by the Hokage. He had grown in extreme ways to reach his jounin level, something that filled his eyes with pride every time someone mentioned it. And he was still in love with Haruno Sakura and he did grow in friendship with her, and eventually ended up with him asking for her hand in marriage. It did not end well; she started to cry and told him that she would ruin his life if she did. It was very sad, but he rebounded and continued to patiently heal his relationship between the two of them.
The two teammates waited for the others to arrive. Tenten was next. She had just taken a shower (it was her ritual before going on an ANBU mission) and was busily tying her hair in a careful bun. She spotted them and grinned. "Neji, Lee, how have things been lately?"
Neji took a careful look at her. No injuries, no bags under her eyes—good, she got a good night's sleep, no cheeks that looked sunken—that was good too, that indicated she was eating right, and finally, a smile on her face. It was a habit now, checking her for any signs of sickness or physical pain. Making sure she won't be a burden during the mission, right?
"Ohayo, minna-san!" A pretty voice called.
"Sakura-san!" Lee shouted as he waved, a bit over-exaggerating.
Haruno Sakura was now the top medic-nin in Konoha at the fresh age of eighteen. She kept her hair short and she grew in shape and skills as she was taken as Tsunade's apprentice. It was quite amazing how the girl learned so quickly. Not only being a medical shinobi, her brain and tactics could match those of Nara Shikamaru, the head of ANBU tactic and strategy unit. But there were many burdens she still bore on her shoulders even after battling to be free of them for five years.
They waited for the last assigned ninja to come.
Time ticked by.
The Hyuuga grew impatient. Very impatient. He hated, no, he despised the late (and the weak). He began to mutter to himself. That was never a good sign. Soon, he would start pacing. That was the sign to not be in within a five yard radius from him. The other three inched slightly away from the fuming Byakugan user and started to pray that the last member would arrive soon.
"Soon-to-be-Hokage Uzumaki Naruto reporting for duty!" A loud voice shouted from behind. "Ne, ne, Hyuuga, what's up? Calm down, I'm here, aren't I?"
The three not involved looked back and forth from a sheepish looking Naruto and a murderously glaring Neji. Tenten laughed nervously and risked her life by stepping in between them. "Captain, no need to be so angry, right? We're wasting even more time. Just let it go, ne? Please?" She used the sweetest voice she could ever muster. Sakura nodded vigorously.
"Tenten-san is right, Neji-san. Let's just go. Naruto won't do it again. Right, Naruto?" She shot him a dangerous look of warning and Naruto grinned his grin and patted the angry ANBU captain on the shoulder. He had to snatch his hand away before Neji ripped it off his arm and made him eat it.
"Ja, should we be off? Neji, you can explain the plan on the way." Lee said, trying to distract his longtime friend from his rage. It worked. Neji snapped back into reality and stared at Lee, surprised he suggested such a sane and logical statement.
It was the mission night for the Konohakagure ANBU. The wind howled madly around him, blown leaves slapping against his face. Clouds gathered above the trees where he was perched and the first signs of rain were visible. But these were all ignored as he signaled to move forward with his tongue by clicking it two times. Almost silently, his ANBU team stirred closer to the target. His earpiece buzzed lightly in his ear.
"Position A reached. Target A in sight."
"Position B reached. Target A in sight."
"Position C reached. Target B in sight."
"Position D reached. Target B in sight."
"Alpha had reached Position E. Both targets are in sight. All positions hold. On my signal, Target A and B will be engaged." Chakra veins appeared at either side of his brilliant white eyes and he scanned the area carefully. Everything was going according to plan. With click of his tongue he vanished, leaving only a soft rustle of leaves.
And the others followed the captain.
The two enemy nins bolted from their former spot. Target A pulled back his tattered cloak and threw five kunais straight at Konoha's elite ANBU.
"That doesn't work on me, baka." A soft voice whispered behind the owner of the thrown kunais. Blood flew one graceful, sliding movement of the ANBU's arm. "Target A eliminated." He said as he let the body slump on the ground. He removed his mask, revealing dark silky hair tied back in a low ponytail and his startling white eyes. The ANBU captain stood staring at the body he looked up to see a familiar face.
"Neji-san, any injuries?" She asked routinely. The young medic-nin had also removed her mask and her petal pink fell about her slender shoulders.
The soft buzzing of the earpiece could be heard again and Uzumaki Naruto's loud voice was heard. "Target B has been eliminated. Ramen is my treat when we go back home."
Hyuuga Neji shook his head. "Check the others." She nodded and disappeared in a flash from his sight to search for the others for injuries. His partner, a member of his team, landed softly on the ground to his left.
"Neji, this seems too easy." She said softly, still on alert as if it was still the beginning of the mission.
"I know, Tenten." The white-eyed shinobi muttered quietly as the veins around his eyes massed again. "Something is off."
The rain was coming down in constant sheets now, and thunder cracked overhead, but the weather was the least of their concerns now. Tenten expertly whirled a kunai about her finger out of nervous habit. Her chocolate eyes scanned the area. They would never be able to see as well as the supernatural Byakugan, but she prided herself in never needing glasses and having perfect vision. She glanced at her captain and long-time comrade.
The ever alert Hyuuga Neji…he amazed her beyond anything. She had always admired the jounin genius, though she wished she could do something about his indifferent attitude. His bitterness with the Main Branch Hyuuga had passed and he was on reconciled terms with his uncle and the rest of the Main Branch. Tenten thought that he was now even a little friendly with the rest now that his secret resentment had vanished. He smiled a little bit more, but still, on missions he was that same, ruthless Neji.
"Anything?" She whispered, crouching low with her hands inside her pouches, ready to fight.
The weapon specialist felt him tense and he also crouched in fighting stance. He spoke into the earpiece. "It seems the fight isn't over yet. Two here, and three to the west, where the rest of you are; all are in trees. It seems like they're here for the two bodies. Guard them with your life."
Four sharp "hai"s was heard and they all took a defensive stance. Neji saw them strike. "Here they come."
Steel clashed against steel one after another. Heartbeats quickened into rapid paces as the ANBU team fought back. Neji roundhouse kicked his opponent and saw an opening to press five of his vital chakra channels closed. It proved to be a mistake. The enemy nin saw his intent and ungracefully dodged it, but slapped something of paper material on his arm. Pain shot up and entered into his chest area. It hurt to breathe. Feeling an onslaught of fury, he twisted around him and stabbed once with his kunai and kicking that same area with an iron hard kick. His left arm was now useless and hanging at his side, throbbing horribly with agony. Channeling his chakra to his fingertips, he knocked some of the nin's chakra holes closed. When he was certain that the ninja could not use his chakra, Neji finished him with a powerful blow to the heart, causing it to stop.
Tenten went in and slashed her own opponent, then darted out of hitting range. Throwing her shuriken for distraction, she did this many times until she was able to permanently keep him down. Twisting her kunai into his neck, she made sure he was dead. She pulled his hair back to see the Hidden Mist symbol and Tenten noticed Neji doing the same thing. He let out a derisive snort and turned his face to look at her.
"Damn, that hurt. These Mist nin came to get these pieces of crap?" Naruto's snarling could be heard in the communicating earpiece.
Neji looked amused at the feisty jounin's comment. "Naruto, is everything clear?"
"Yup, looks like it. Sakura-chan went around with soldier pills and is currently coming towards you two."
They heard an obvious rustle few yards away. The pink haired medic came with her kit in hand. Her trained eyes perceived Neji's arm with concern and he held it out for her to look at. Without a word, she gathered precise chakra in her pointer finger and dislodged the strange paper from his arm. She looked at it questioningly then to Neji.
"Do you have any idea what this is?" Sakura asked them. Of course, it was a rhetorical question because she went on quickly. "A paralyzing seal. Not very advanced, though, looking at how slowly it took effect in your body, captain."
Neji glared at it. "I still can't feel my arm."
After Sakura healed the pain away, they agreed to meet back at their temporary base with the bodies. Neji and Tenten leapt in to the trees and headed south. They were soon joined by the three others that partook in the mission: Naruto, Sakura, and Lee.
Upon the arrival, the team sat down to discuss the mission. Sakura passed around food parcels and everyone opened them to eat. All of them thought that the mission seemed too easy for five ANBU to handle. Three ordinary jounins could have easily taken care of this. They fell into silence and Neji stood, stretching his arms and legs.
"We'll inform the Hokage. Perhaps she will know some answers."
The next couple of minutes were spent getting ready for a few hours sleep they would need before heading back to the village. Neji always took the first and the last watches. He sat cross legged on the ground and closed his eyes, feeling everyone settle down around him. He opened his mind to the nature that surrounded him and the meditating captain felt her sit close to him.
"Why aren't you sleeping? We have five hours non-stop travel to do tomorrow." He said quietly.
Tenten sighed. The rain had lightened up, now coming down in a drizzle, as she watched her teammate. She was mesmerized by the sight of his finely chiseled chin and nose. Delicate eyelids covered his white orbs and his long, flowing hair rested against his muscular back. Silent. Always so silent. Sometimes, it was like talking to a brick wall. But he was listening.
"Do you see something interesting, Tenten?" He asked, and she could almost hear the smirk seeping into his voice. Turning her gaze away, she didn't really reply. The Hyuuga found this a bit odd. "Anything you want to say? You are too quite."
The weapons specialist chuckled and closed her eyes. "I thought you'd like the quiet."
"Your silence is loud. It annoys me." He said dryly.
Tenten opened her eyes again to look at the night sky. Stars glittered heavenly through the disappearing clouds. "Did your father ever look at the stars with you, Neji?"
The inquiry was only met by tense stillness. "Yes, a few times." He said after awhile. He didn't know why she was asking such questions, but if she wanted to know, he would answer.
"I'd wonder, sometimes, if stars tell destinies. I wonder if each star is out there, telling of our destinies." She turned to face him and surprisingly found him looking at her from his meditation.
His eyes seemed to search hers for answers but he didn't say anything. Tenten gently fell on her back on the cool grass, her arm tucked under head for a pillow. She looked at him and then glanced at the space beside her. Taking it as a command, he propped his back from the ground with his elbows beside her, his stretched legs crossed slightly. He lifted his face to the sky, mimicking what she had done earlier and tried to see what she was telling him about.
"War is a pitiful thing, isn't it, Tenten?" He asked softly, still looking at the sky. Tenten's eyes grew wide at his remark. He continued, "How many people have been lost in this war? That Uchiha, two of my cousins, and two-hundred-thirty-six others as I was informed by Hokage-sama." His silver-white eyes gazed at her, and to her surprise, they were filled with something unexplainable. But the peaceful moment was broken by a stifled sob in the camp.
Tenten looked at Neji curiously and they both listened to the continuing sobs coming from the only other kunoichi that had come on the mission: Haruno Sakura. Being a woman, Tenten quickly stole her way through the resting bodies of her ANBU teammates and arrived beside the medic-nin's side. Tears trickled down her face in steady streams down her pale face, as her sobbing became desperate. Sakura's body was curled up in a protective ball as her tears wet her pillow.
"S-Sasuke-kun, don't leave. Please…I would do anything." She moaned softly in her sleep. Tenten's eyes betrayed a look of sympathy as she heard those words. So, the infamous Uchiha still haunted her dreams. It was a pity that he did not return. Perhaps he could have found something far greater than power and death if he understood what Sakura wanted him to understand.
The medic-nin's emerald eyes shot open and saw the weapon specialist. "Tenten-san, I—" she looked so defeated suddenly, "Why did he have to leave? I don't understand why I am so weak. I promised myself that I would stop crying."
"Stop worrying so much, Sakura. And don't tell yourself that you're weak because that's not true."
The pink haired jounin nodded, flustered that Tenten found her in such a state. She put her head down on her pillow once more and the elder kunoichi could not help but reassure her again.
Neji watched in innocent fascination as Tenten whispered to the Haruno girl in a motherly way. Come to think of it, as he gazed at her, his comrade and friend, she had changed considerably the past few years. Her two usual buns on her head were now pulled back into one, a sign of maturity in her clan. Few stubborn strands of her auburn hair hung loosely from it, making her look quite…attractive. The tie that held the hairstyle in place was a decorative piece, one that the Byakugan user had awkwardly given to her as a present for her eighteenth birthday. It was the only "girly" hair article that she owned. Even with the intensive training, her face was still pale, almost delicately so, and her skin was smooth. However, her hands were almost as hard and calloused as his due to the constant use of weapons.
Tenten made her way through to Neji again after making sure that Sakura fell asleep. He was back to meditating. "Neji, do you ever wonder what happened to Sasuke?"
His eyes opened slowly and fixed on a blade of grass before him. "No."
"Do you think he's dead?"
"Then what do you think?"
He let out a small sigh. "I think he's power hungry bastard. He is a traitor to the Leaf and should not be forgiven nor be shown mercy. I would like to kill him myself, though I think Naruto will get the honor of doing it first." His brows furrowed in an expression that was halfway between an angry scowl and a sulk. Tenten smiled at his countenance.
"It's a shame that Sakura still loves him…" She cast a worried glance to the fitfully sleeping pink haired ninja.
The Hyuuga snorted. "Love? I see it as more of an obsession."
She couldn't disagree there for only a second. "I think it started out as an obsession. But look at her, Neji; she knows that she loves him. It tears her up inside."
He raised an eyebrow, giving her one of his questioning looks. "Since when did you decided you were going to analyze Haruno's love life?"
It was her turn to snort and punch him on the arm. "I'm not analyzing anything. I'm just telling you to see it in a bigger picture."
"Not the way I heard it." He commented wryly, earning him another punch to the arm. Believe it or not, her punches were strong enough to leave a bruise for a few days.
"You wanted to fight him, didn't you? Sasuke, I mean." She asked him.
Neji shifted his white gaze again. "Aa, but that was before he decided power was more important than the Village." His companion could tell he was bitter towards the Uchiha for that.
"It's been an awful five years, hasn't it? There has been so much war and bloodshed. Sasuke's betrayal, Sound Village's constant attacks, Orochimaru's threat to Hokage-sama, Gai-sempai and Kakashi-sempai ending up in the hospital in critical condition, the second failure to bring back Sasuke…it's been a cruel five years, Neji. I'm just glad you and Lee are all right and not in a hospital of some sort." Her voice trailed off into a whisper and realized that she was staring hard at the ground.
A hand hesitantly covered hers and Tenten looked up in surprise. Neji's eyes were swirling with confusion of his emotions and he glanced at the connection he made. Seeing that her hand made a reaction, he tightened his hold.
"Do you know, Tenten," his face drew closer, "why I pick you first to on my group if I am able?" She baited her breath while she shook her head. He was even closer. "I don't ever want to leave you alone by yourself. If you are on missions with me, I know where you are at all times, and it makes me want to live a little longer." So close, that she could feel his breath tickling her face. "I will never let you cry for me."
Part of him was wondering what had made him say all those things to her. But he meant them. The first time he went away, commanding his own ANBU team, Tenten was left at the Village because of an injury. He couldn't concentrate on anything but how she would be recovering without him there. She was the worry that caused him to briefly give control to Naruto as he recuperated his mind. From then on, he made sure that Tenten was coming with him. She was ANBU for only a few weeks, but he took her everywhere. They would train together, although Tenten always thought it was to make her skills better, but that was only a part of the reason.
"Will you two keep it down? I'm trying to sleep." Naruto snapped sleepily, drowsy, azure eyes glaring at them.
Tenten smiled while Neji looked amused as he looked at her again. His eyes flickered from her eyes to her lips then to her eyes. He calmly took her arms and easily positioned her to sit in his embrace, her back to his chest, letting her feel the rhythm of his heart. Together, they watched the stars.
Sakura frowned in her sleep. She toss and turned, not knowing how get rid of this strange, uncomfortable feeling.
"Did you miss me, Sakura-san? Nice to see you again." A voice brushed against her ear, causing her to shiver. Her breathing was suppressed and she felt like her chest had caved in. Sakura sensed the dark presence behind her.
"I've missed you. I haven't seen you in two years, I believe."
"What do you want?" She gasped out weakly, trembling, and cursing herself for being so weak.
"Why do you say I want something?"
"Why are you here then? Who are you?"
"You don't remember me, Sakura-san? That's odd, because I remember you. Haruno Sakura…"
"Stop mocking me and answer me." Her ragged breaths quickened slightly, stirring something inside the intruder.
"I'm sure my little brother has mentioned me, has he not, Sakura-san? I am the brother that he hates and made him betray the Leaf to seek power to kill. I am Uchiha Itachi."
The name sent a jolt down her spine. Sakura was now breathing very hard. "How do you know me? I only saw a glimpse of you two years ago."
Itachi chuckled softly, a hint of mischievousness seeping into it. "Oh, I've caught more than mere glimpses of you." Sudden images of her undressing completely and stepping into a hot shower flashed before her eyes.
Gasping, she ripped herself away, feeling suddenly disgusted with herself. Sakura saw that Lee was on watch, with Neji resting with his arm around Tenten, who was curled up next to him. A painful pang of jealousy went through her system as she watched them.
"Lee-san, is everything ok?" She whispered. Lee gave her his famous thumbs up.
"Hai, Sakura-san," she winced when he called her in that way, "why are you awake? We still have a few hours of rest."
"I know. I just had a nightmare…" The medic-nin stared at her hands. "A nightmare…" she whispered to herself.
Author's notes: I'm still looking out for mistakes, but this was best I could do so far. I need and beta reader… T-T Anyone?
Yes, yes, Itachi is being a naughty boy, but that won't last long. He's not like that at all for the rest of the story. It was Sakura's dream anyway.