Title: Best Laid Plans
Author: Cyberwolf aka Wingsover
Rating/Warnings: T, for...you'll see.
Challenge: March, "Not a river, but similar to a marsh."
Summary: The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.
"Neji. We're lost."
Neji grunted again, not so much in denial as in a refusal to answer at all.
"Look, we passed by that village only a few hours – " actually it would be more like half a day's travel. " – back. We could…"
"Village? It was a few huts – mud huts…"
"It had people, though; people we could ask…"
"We are not going to ask for directions."
"I said no."
Tenten glared at her partner's back as they sped through the trees, gritting her teeth until her jaw twinged. To her intense shame, she felt angry tears prickling at her eyes; roughly, she knuckled them away with one white-clenched fist, hoping Neji hadn't seen.
It had been a week's hard going to get to the tropical region where a missing-nin was supposed to be hiding, then three days of hunting their quarry through thick jungle, constantly alert, constantly on the move. Their missing-nin was more used to the terrain than they were, and his specialty as a chuunin had been trap-setting, making for an…interesting…pursuit through the hot, humid rainforest. Then, after delivering him to the men of the local daimyo, the two Konoha nin had immediately started for home, which was another week's hard traveling.
It had been more than half a month since she had slept on anything softer than damp, rotting undergrowth, and the closest thing she'd had to a bath was when she was rained on. Her leg, which had been broken two missions back, ached steadily. Neji had been pushing them hard, for some reason, and they had made good speed, but the aching and the exhaustion were the price she paid. Tenten had felt a little better as they left behind the equatorial regions for the cooler clime of their own countryside, but still…
She choked back the urge to yell at Neji. She had been very worried that their new status as boyfriend and girlfriend would change the smooth, efficient dynamics of their teamwork as ninja, but so far it hadn't; if anything they worked better together. Neji understood and trusted her skills; and she had always been almost supernaturally attuned to what he needed of her in a fight, in a hunt, in a mission. She didn't want to ask him for consideration…
But she was so tired.
She hadn't realized how much she had been depending on the promise of a stop in the nearby town of Yamaguti, with hot springs and an inn and a place to eat cooked food, until their lack of navigation threatened to take that away from her. She wanted clean sheets. She wanted food that was warm and filling and didn't require ten minutes of chewing just so she could swallow. She wanted hot water, dammit.
She was ready to scream.
Apparently something of that showed on her face, because Neji slowed, dropped back to her side, and regarded her carefully. "I…know where we are," he said placatingly.
"Really?" Tenten said. Well, she tried to say it, but somehow it ended up as a growl. "Do elaborate."
Neji winced slightly. Wordlessly he activated his Byakugan, veins bulging around his eyes as he scanned their area. "The Nisiki River is in that direction," he said, pointing. "If we follow it we should be in Yamaguti in a little while."
Tenten perked up a little at this promise, and Neji breathed a small sigh of relief. They immediately altered their course and went in the direction Neji had pointed….
Only to stop dead still at the edge of the tree line. Silently they stared at the landscape stretching out before their eyes.
"This isn't a river. This is…it's more like a marsh than anything else," Tenten continued flatly. "Whatever it is, it isn't the Nisiki."
"That means we're probably nowhere near Yamaguti, either, doesn't it." It was not a question. Despairingly, Tenten turned her eyes towards the red-gold light of the setting sun. It was beautiful…and it was depressing. There was no way they could make Yamaguti before nightfall. She slumped, weariness and discomfort and just a really bad day taking its toll. Neji suppressed a roil of guilt in his stomach as he looked at his utterly exhausted girlfriend.
He activated his Byakugan again. "There's an empty cabin there, about eight hundred meters off," he said, a lot more softly – one might even, stretching the point, have said timidly. "It looks fully stocked. We could rest there, leave recompensation…"
Fire Country had standing orders that Konoha ninja could, if demonstrating sufficient need, bivouac themselves at any dwelling-place, whether or not the owner was in residence. They would of course be amply paid for the help, with special tokens they could redeem at any town center, and in any case most people liked to be on the good side of ninja; but the option of refusing was not theirs.
"A cabin? Are you sure? Better check that it's not actually a tree or a boulder, Neji-kun," Tenten said archly, but was too tired to refuse the promise. "Let's go."
And lo and behold, it actually was a cabin. To attribute the title to a two-storey structure that looked about 6000 square feet, with a covered deck and balconies and a two-mile-long driveway was like calling a filet mignon a piece of meat, but the title fit.
More to the point, it was a cabin with a bathroom. Tenten yelped in glee and dashed inside with a hurried, "It'sokayifIgofirstrightNejikunthanks!" Within a short time Neji could hear the sound of running water splashing on tiled floors.
Tenten, revelling in the clean hot water running over her body, washing away the days of dirt, and heat, and insect-bites, and blood, almost sang in sheer joy. She looked around herself as she lathered her hair with the honey-and-vanilla scented shampoo the owner had left. Funnily enough, it was the same brand she used whenever she felt like spoiling herself – usually she made do with a non-scented cleanser.
The bathroom was huge, done in pale red marble with rare gold veining – stone that must have cost a fortune. There was not only a shower larger than the whole of her bathroom at home, but also a bathtub, deep-set into the floor with steps leading down into its expansive depths, and a mirrored wall above a massive marble basin of a sink. Containers of expensive shampoo, oils, conditioners, lotions and other bathroom products were arranged neatly on a glass shelf running the length of the room.
She let out a happy sigh as she rinsed herself off. This was much better than any accommodations they could have possibly gotten at Yamaguti. This was more than a silver lining; it was as if the cloud of their difficult journey had suddenly begun to rain silver on them. After several minutes of just letting the hot water rush over her, Tenten finally stepped out of the shower, just before she would have started to wrinkle. She dried herself with the softest, fluffiest towel she had ever seen, then wrapped herself in a bathrobe of the same material. It was large enough to envelop her twice over, so she didn't feel shy about going out in front of Neji in it – really it covered more than her usual sleeveless top and waders did, as it dragged slightly on the floor as she moved.
Besides, it wasn't as if he hadn't seen her in less…
She came out of the bathroom in a cloud of fragrant, soap-scented steam, moving past Neji in a half-daze. "All yours," she mumbled to him, before shuffling to one of the bedrooms. The huge trundle bed, with thick white sheets and more pillows than she knew what to do with, seemed to be softly calling her name. 'Come to me, Tenten. Look how soft I am, how inviting! Come sleee-eep…' it crooned to her.
"Sleep…" Tenten mumbled, collapsing onto it bonelessly. With a happy little sigh she pulled the thick coverlet over her. She did not fall asleep so much as she lost consciousness, dropping into slumber with a smile on her face.
Neji watched his sleeping girlfriend from the doorway, unsure as to how he should be feeling.
On the one hand, the look of sheer pleasure on Tenten's face as she indulged, for the first time in weeks, in hot showers and in deep, unworried sleep was enough to make even Neji melt. He wanted to brush her hair away from her tired, blissfully sleeping face, tuck the blankets in around her, just sit beside her and watch her.
On the other hand, weeks of planning and preparation had just been thrown out the door in favour of sleep. Neji glanced over his shoulder at the dozens of candles burning in the living room, casting a golden glow over the dinner gently steaming on the tabletop. He sighed and took a swig of champagne from the crystal flute he held in his hand.
Served him right, he supposed. Well, thanks to his pushing, she was too tired to appreciate the romantic, candle-lit atmosphere. Thanks to his pushing, they also had three days before they were expected back in Konoha…he smirked and finished off the last of the champagne, before heading out to the living room to tuck all the candles and dinner-trimmings away. Tomorrow, he had no doubt he could convince her to take a day of rest…and tomorrow night…
His smirk turned into a wide grin.
Yes, I wrote Hyuuga Neji as trying the old "Hey, we're lost, oh look a cabin with candles and champagne" trick. Cabin based on a luxury cabin at Whistler in BC, Canada.