Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or anything remotely related to it.
Author's Notes: A look at Tenten's character, glimpse of life sort of thing. Mild NejiTen. "Bishamon" refers to one of the Seven Gods of Luck in Japanese mythology, he was the partron of warriors.
Dedicated to Ami Yuy.
The Right Hand of Bishamon
The makeshift field base for the Konoha ninja was all but invisible unless stumbled upon accidentally. A few pitched tents marked the edge of a small clearing, along with a hastily erected table littered with fluttering mission reports weighted down with scattered kunai. Standing over them, his pale eyes fixed on half a page of almost illegible text, was Hyuuga Neji. He was dressed simply, the long sleeves of his shirt brushing the weathered tabletop as he traced a line of script, his face unreadable. Next to him, the Fire Country's best weapons expert watched him patiently, her hair pulled back in its usual functional style, a pair of katanas strapped to her back, a kodachi at her waist. She was a walking arsenal, her slim body toned for warfare, and she was feeling restless that morning. He could tell by the set of her shoulders, her stance, her electric silence.
In truth, he felt the same. Fire Country was at war with the Cloud Country and nerves were on edge, emotions bubbling just beneath the surface. Perhaps even more so for him whose family had long held a grudge against the hidden village and its ninja. However, burdened by the role of leadership, he did not allow himself to think of his father. Instead, Neji picked up the report from his old teammate, Rock Lee, and felt Tenten's eyes follow his movement, her body practically humming with contained energy. Outwardly calm, she waited for his decision.
Lee had sent that an incoming enemy group would reach the field base at around midday. Neji needed to send out an arrow-point formation to break off and engage part of the force, giving Konoha time to regroup and reassess. The decision of who to send could not be made lightly; whoever was chosen couldn't be part of the main assault.
At first, Neji wasn't sure he actually heard her. The two of them were a well-oiled machine, their names spoken in the same breath by those close to them. They had trained together since they were children and had a way of almost reading each other's thoughts. He glanced at her over his shoulder, arching an eyebrow at the set look on her face. For him to send her out would be to break up the partnership—something he was loathe to do. Despite how he tried to hide it, he liked having her with him when the fighting started.
Tenten was a stubborn girl though, and Neji could see the value of her suggestion. With her chosen weapons, she had the ability to create a devasting army out of single scroll. She would take two other shinobi with her to engage the army who, by Neji's reasoning, would split into two forces, one to stay and fight her, the other to continue on to the Konoha base camp. If she could hold off the first force for even a few minutes, it would give them a distinct advantage.
Tenten said she would do it, and Neji agreed.
She chose Hyuuga Hinata, with her far-seeing eyes, and Haruno Sakura, whose abilities as a medic would not be needed until well into the main battle. Neji watched them leave, the three kunoichi fading into the trees like dappled sunlight, barely a whisper of their passing reaching his ears. They were capable and intelligent, but something made him watch the forest long after they had gone, only Naruto's loud voice drawing him away from his silent vigil.
Jumping from tree limb to tree limb, Tenten took stock of her personal inventory, mentally adding all the weapons she carried, save her scrolls. Those were worth a whole team of shinobi and she didn't have any doubts that her plan would work. She was focused, determined. She had no need to tally her chances of survival.
However, as in any battle, there were always whims of fate, turns of chance that foil even the best of strategists. Originally, she had thought her quarry to be around seventy-five nin strong only to have Hinata frantically report that it was more like one hundred and seventy-five. Still, her resolve was unshaken. She had her orders.
Unruffled, she strung invisible wire the length of the anticipated contact zone, instructing Sakura in laying makibishi along the ground while Hinata acted as a lookout. Then she readied herself, methodically strapping arm guards over her forearms, pulling finger-less gloves on her hands. That's all the mattered: hands and arms. Afterwards, she rechecked her rolls of wire, her weapons, and her scrolls. Ready.
Hinata leapt down from the tree canopy with news that the enemy was approaching, and faster than they had foreseen. Tenten straightened, and calmly turned to Sakura.
"Well then, you must return."
Haruno wore an expression of utter disbelief. "What?"
"You and Hinata go back to base camp. Neji will be needing you," Tenten replied evenly. "You'll be worth more to him there than here."
"T…Tenten-san, surely you're not t..thinking…"
The weapons expert smiled. "I'll be fine, Hinata. I'm just going to make sure they hit the traps." Her voice drifted absently.
"I'll be right behind you."
There were no words to describe the sinking, wrenching feeling that Hyuuga Neji experienced upon seeing Sakura and Hinata return without Tenten. A sort of grim lethargy settled over him, making it seem as if they were moving in slow motion, the spiral of a falling leaf taking years, every blink, an hour. When they finally reached him, he thought he must have been waiting eons.
Sakura met his gaze with something like apprehension. "She sent us back."
It took him a moment to understand what she was saying. His voice turned carefully flat. "What?"
"She… She said she would be r..right behind us…" Neji's pearl-cold eyes turned to his cousin and she took a step back. It was a full minute before he could speak.
"Haruno, go join the med unit, and take Hinata-sama with you." He turned on his heel, headed toward the front lines. Sakura called after him.
"What about Tenten?"
He didn't answer. As commander, he couldn't leave his teams to fight without guidance, not to rescue one lone kunoichi who had spared others her own fate. He would have to rely on her strength to bring her back to him, despite the irrational desire to do something, anything. He had sent her to do his bidding and now it was a matter of trust. She would make it back.
He wanted to say, It was fated, but the words wouldn't come.
Three hours later, Tenten staggered into camp, one arm useless at her side, hair unraveling from her buns, tired and anxious. He was waiting for her, looking a little worse for the wear but otherwise in one piece. Seeing him made her forget her own wounds: the fine crisscrossing welts from snapped wires, a particularly nasty cut from a kunai she had let get too close. These things seemed very small compared to the fact that they were both alive and whole.
"Neji," she said, and smiled, her body falling forward of its own volition, relief making her lightheaded. He caught her against his chest easily and she could hear his heart beating a faster pace than was usual.
"You were very foolish," he said as he lifted her, his direction telling her he was taking her to the field hospital. His face was a mask of painstakingly constructed composure. "And you disobeyed my orders."
She only offered him a wane smile, eliciting a scowl from him before her expression turned serious and she lifted a hand to grip his arm. "Did we win?"
"Yes, for the moment. They retreated beyond the border." He looked down at her. "Your mission was a success, it seems."
Tenten relaxed. "That's good."
After that, she remembered very little. Neji had had the medics treat her superficial wounds and Sakura had come by at one point and given her something that had put her out until sunrise the next day. She was thus slightly late for Neji's early morning council but got there eventually, taking her usual place just behind his right shoulder.
It took only a few minutes for her to realize someone else had not made the meeting.
Every eye fell on her, a doom of silence stifling the air as Neji turned his head, regarding her levelly. She felt a stirring of fear even before he spoke.
"He was caught."
The air in her lungs turned to ash. "When?"
Shikamaru answered her. "Yesterday. The scout that went with him is dead." The lazy genius leaned down to point a finger at one of the maps. "He's being held by a group near the border. One well-placed shinobi should be enough."
"We can't afford to send a team anyway," Sakura put in. She looked worried. "But are we sure it can be done by a single person?"
"It can," Shikamaru said, and surprisingly, his gaze swung to Tenten. She met his look briefly before turning to Neji, waiting for his verdict. It wasn't all that necessary though, she knew what he would say. After all, Lee had been their teammate and she had always been fond of him, despite the fact that he often drove her crazy. Even Neji, though she knew he would never admit it, valued Lee as a friend and fellow ninja.
The Hyuuga nodded once and met her eyes, giving her a wealth of thoughts without uttering a word. You will go. You will retrieve Lee and you will come back. You are not to be seen.
She bowed slightly and talk turned to other matters as if the conclusion of her mission had already been decided, as if she had already come and gone. Only after Neji had dismissed them did he speak to her, his eyes watching the horizon. She wondered that he could not look at her.
"You'll be by my side by nightfall."
It was not a question. Tenten almost smiled at the arrogant tilt to his voice, but that was to be expected by those whom the Hyuuga trusted. When Neji believed in you he expected miracles. Never mind that she was still recovering physically. Never mind that she was terrible at stealth. Neji said she would be back by nightfall, and it would be so.
His words allowed for no other outcome.
There was a small compound at the border, something like a guard tower, she thought, except that it lay close to the ground. There were five shinobi guarding the exterior, a bit overkill in her opinion, but she supposed Lee had given them a hard time and they weren't taking any chances. A grim smile crossed her face at that and she hoped a few of them were walking wounded under those bandages and masks.
There was only one way in and out of the building and there was no telling how many shinobi awaited her on the inside. She didn't let it worry her though. One thing at a time, that was all she needed to think about. The five shinobi must die, preferably without alerting anyone inside, and she thought she knew how it could be done. However, it would require close combat and Neji's orders still rang in her mind. You are not to be seen. It was a good thing that speed had always been her ally.
She pulled a single kunai from its holster and descended through the trees, barely breathing in an effort to hide her presence from her enemies. The first shinobi was well within the forest and appeared to be relieving himself. Perfect. She dropped behind him and cut his throat before he even knew she was there.
The second shinobi she killed by lodging a kunai in his neck, his last gurgling breath heard only by herself. The third took the same kunai to the heart, along with the fourth, although he managed to grunt softly before hitting the ground. The sound drew the attention of the last ninja, the one whose demise would be the trickiest. He was standing by the door, his sharp gaze eyeing his surroundings. He was completely out in the open so she could not get close enough to take him down before he raised the alarm. She would have to do it from a distance.
Threading a handful of shuriken with wire, she sent the stars sailing, neatly pinning him to the wall of the building, his arms and legs held tight by the wire. He cried out, but she had already thrown a kunai at his heart. His body slumped, held unnaturally upright by her trap. Knowing she had only a matter of moments before someone came to check, she followed the previous kunai with another, this one tagged. It buried itself in the door as she melted deeper into the forest, hiding herself.
The door exploded, splinters of wood flying through the dust, and two shinobi barreled through, weapons in hand. She let them take two steps before sending a volley of weapons at them. Their bodies hit the ground, surprise still painted on their still faces. The moment they were clear she dropped to the ground and ran for the door, simultaneously unsheathing her kodachi. As she cleared the frame, she rolled to the side, coming up on one knee, her blade extended as she got her bearings.
She was alone.
Well, almost. Chained to the opposite wall was Lee. He appeared to be half-conscious, his face a mask of bruises with a number of freely bleeding cuts all over his body. He hadn't even raised his head when the door blew in.
Frowning, she stayed still, quieting her breathing as she gazed about the small room. There were a number of dusty crates in the corner, a single wooden chair in the other, but no hiding spots for enemy nin. She truly was alone.
Deciding time was of the essence, she rose and sheathed her kodachi, hurrying to Lee's side and shaking his shoulders.
"Lee!" she whispered firmly, "Wake up! Lee!"
His eyes fluttered and fixed on her, his cracked lips parting to croak her name. "Tenten."
She reached down to partly unroll one of her scrolls. "That's right," she said, keeping her voice steady. She made a seal with her hand and slapped her palm against the parchment, catching the four, oddly shaped explosives as they popped into being.
"I'm going to get you out of here," she continued, setting the small charges into the rings of his chains, one where each of his arms and legs met the shackles. "Just hold on. I'm taking you home."
She stepped back as the bombs went off, their small explosions just enough to destroy Lee's bonds without hurting him. Immediately, she caught him under his arm, bracing herself against his weight as he stumbled away from the wall, still not quite coherent.
"Lee, can you walk?" She wouldn't get far if she had to carry him.
"Of course… I can walk…" he said, his hoarse voice indignant. His legs wobbled but he managed to stay upright enough to take two drunken steps forward. His beaten face tried to beam at her and she had to swallow against the rage and tears that threatened to bubble up. Whoever had done this to him was probably dead by her hand. Crying over it would not do him any good.
"Come on, then," she said, a bit more gently. "Let's get out of here."
"Whatever…you say," he managed. She watched his eyes widen and had only a second to notice before something hit her over the head and white stars flickered in front of her eyes. She crumbled to the floor and heard Lee fall beside her, just before a kick to the stomach emptied her lungs and left her struggling to breathe. A hand grabbed her collar and hauled her to her feet; this time she managed to block her attacker's next blow with her forearm, her other hand fumbling at her waist. She slashed at him with a kunai and he released her, cursing. As her vision resolved she saw that it was one of the two ninja she'd lured out before. An assortment of her weapons protruded from him like pins in a pincushion but he was still moving despite the blood dribbling from his mouth, a sign that his death was imminent. He obviously knew it, too, for he took no care with himself, lunging at her with all of his remaining strength, hands reaching for her throat.
She raised her kunai and let him crash into her, the hilt forced painfully back into her ribs as he impaled himself with his own momentum. Warm blood dripped over her skin and she fought down a brief surge of nausea, letting his body fall away from her with gravity's pull. Inexplicably, she felt her own body tremble and she had to reach out to steady herself against the wall, breathing deeply.
Across the room, Lee was watching her, one eye too swollen to open all the way. "Tenten…?"
She forced herself to straighten, to go to him and pull him to his feet. He had suffered much more than she had. If he could go on, so could she. After all, if there was one thing she had learned from him, it was to never give up.
"We're going, Lee," she told him, as they stepped together out into the fading sunlight. "Someone's waiting for us."
He glanced sideways at her. "Who?"
Instead of answering, she smiled.
"We'll be by his side at nightfall."