A/N: My first NejiTen story – but I love them because the highly talented Goldberry refused to let me do otherwise! (Kidding, Berry-nee.) Also my second Naruto fic. Rated for situations – mostly in later chapters – and a bit of language.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of its characters. I am making no profit from this story.
Dedicated to Goldberry.
Part One: Birthday Mission
Tenten was unusually late in leaving the house the day when she was to see the Fifth Hokage. Though she had a reputation of being punctual, it was only due to the fact that she was the fastest kunoichi in Konoha. She had a wretched habit of sleeping in, something that had developed after a mission when she and Lee had been forced to change their resting hours to later than normal.
She fixed her hair as she ran, wrapping the chestnut locks into their customary buns on top of her head. Often Tenten had thought about getting a haircut and doing something new with her appearance now that she wasn't a child anymore, but in the end she decided against it. In a life where there was always change, it seemed part of her still clung to something constant; even something as unimportant as hair.
By the time she reached the office building of the Hokage, she managed to look something close to presentable. This turned out to be an especially good thing because Hyuuga Neji was standing outside the main entrance, leaning against a wall and waiting for her.
She stopped short, kicking up some dust as she went from thirty miles per hour to zero. "Neji," she breathed, gasping more from surprise than from lack of air.
"Hey." He pushed off from the wall, long ebony hair swaying as he straightened. "A little behind, aren't you?" he commented, his voice tinted with the slightest bit of wit.
She glanced at her watch and grinned. "Not yet. What are you doing here? I thought you and Hinata were supposed to go to some Hyuuga family ceremony today."
"It was postponed due to orders from the Hokage." Her former teammate turned away from her and began to walk inside. "I've been assigned to the same mission as you."
If Tenten's brain had been a clock, it would have missed a tick. "The same mission…as me?" she repeated dumbly. As her legs followed him automatically, her mind raced. It was nearly unbelievable. She and Neji hadn't been on a mission together in nearly two years, ever since they had both been promoted to Chuunin. Since then, Neji and Shikamaru had been main partners, and they had been most recently joined by Shino. It was believed that their combined techniques were the most beneficial when put together, and they made a good team.
Though nobody had said so, he had surpassed Tenten. And the actual time they had spent together in the last couple of years amounted to almost half a week. She had been partnered with only Lee lately.
"What for?" she went on, still puzzled. "Wouldn't it make more sense to send someone from my team? Like Lee or even Ino or Sakura?" She might have said Naruto if the thought of working with him didn't exasperate her so much.
"If I knew," the Byakugan user said quietly, "I would tell you."
Tenten nodded, this time keeping her mouth shut. Another one of her bad habits was to talk needlessly, and she knew that Neji had always been bothered by it during their days in Team Gai.
They entered the office of the Hokage together. Family upraising and a lifetime of servitude had Neji allowing Tenten inside first, and she tried to take little notice of it. But she always found herself briefly reflecting on such actions, casual as they were. It had interested her for years now – just how much of Neji was built on manners. She looked at him in passing, and he met her eyes with a cool expression. Anyone would think that he was perfectly calm, that nothing could get close enough to bother him. But to her…
He always seemed so ready to break loose.
Her train of thought was broken by the voice of the Fifth Hokage. Snapping her brown eyes to the figure sitting behind the desk, she was immediately overcome by the same notion that she got every time she saw the leader of Konoha.
Tsunade was as beautiful as ever, and it was hard to believe that she was nearing 55 years old. She still looked no older than thirty, and the only giveaway to her actual age was the way her eyes appeared. The brown of them was far deeper than one would expect. Tenten always felt inspired by her.
Well, at least she did until she took in the way the Fifth leaned casually against the desk, her fingers linked and holding up her chin. Behind her, Shizune stood with an armload of paperwork, looking stressed. On the floor near her feet, the pig Tonton was squealing anxiously. Tenten nearly sighed. Tsunade-sama had been notoriously slacking off again.
"Thank you for coming so early," Tsunade said as Neji was shutting the door behind him. Behind her, Shizune rolled her eyes, seeming to say, "It's nearly noon, Tsunade-sama!" Tsunade either took no notice or ignored her. "I suppose both you and Neji are a bit confused about why I called you two here together."
Tenten, not knowing what to say, only gave her a small smile. She couldn't see what kind of response Neji made since he was standing a little behind her.
"I have decided to send you on the same mission for some very practical reasons," Tsunade went on. "It's an easy one – you won't even be leaving the country – but it's going to take some deception."
The stalling was driving Tenten crazy. "Whatever it is," she said confidently, "I'm sure Neji and I can take care of it well for you."
"Heh." A corner of her bright red lips turned up with a smirk. "That's exactly what I wanted to hear." Leaning back, she pulled out a drawer to her right and took out a couple sheets of paper. She tossed them onto the desk facing them, and Neji and Tenten moved closer to examine it.
One sheet was a large and somewhat blurry picture of a man with shoulder-length black hair, bright green eyes, and a slightly crooked nose. He wasn't particularly unattractive, but he wasn't extraordinarily handsome either. His eyebrows were lowered in a mean look. The sheet next to this picture contained standard information on him: blood type, age, affiliations, and so on.
"This man is Urume Hidegaya," Tsunade began, her tone changing to something akin to formal. "He is the leader of a syndicate clan in the southern part of the Country of Fire. A real bastard," she added, and Tenten blinked in surprise. "He's trying to dip his hand into Konoha, hoping to make exchanges with other syndicates from other countries."
"Selling what?" came Neji's patient voice.
Tsunade's eyebrows arched. "Medicine. As drugs, not cures." She sounded annoyed.
"That's…" Tenten found she had no words to express her disgust with the idea and instead folded her arms and waited for the Fifth to continue.
"He's lying low for now, staying at an inn called the Yumuwa in a village not too far away. The Yumuwa is known for operating many hot springs. It's fairly remote, so it's a good place for Urume to hide out as well as take it easy." Tsunade opened another drawer and fished out a scroll. Handing it to Neji, she said, "Here's the map to get you there. I've already outlined the quickest path for you."
She turned her gaze to Tenten, and her smile fell. Tenten didn't know why, but she suddenly felt something in her stomach clench, as though something she would dislike was about to befall her. And since the circumstances of the morning were strange enough already, she was fairly sure that something was.
Taking a breath, Tsunade leaned back. "This is a different sort of mission than what you're used to, Tenten. For this, I need you to go undercover. You too, Neji. But it's Tenten who is the key to this mission."
"Me?" Tenten wet her lips, which had gone dry with odd nervousness. "But why—"
"Simply put," interrupted the Hokage, "you're an attractive young woman. You're also resourceful and have shown on previous missions that you take your work very seriously. That is imperative for this little incognito trip. Urume isn't easily fooled. Other countries and even some of our own shinobi have gone to try to catch him in breaking laws, but each time he's made himself out to be as innocent as a fisherman. I'm counting on you two to turn our luck around."
"What must we do?" asked Tenten. It seemed that Neji was content to just stand there and wait for instructions.
"You two will join Urume at the Yumuwa Inn. Neji will act as though he is interested in buying some of Urume's stock. Most preferably, you'll catch him with the product on him. Make it convincing, and stretch it out. Never rush. He'll know if you're not truly interested and you could blow the whole thing." She waited until Neji nodded his understanding.
"This is where you come in, Tenten. Just to make sure that Urume's focus is a bit off, we've added a bit of assurance. Like most leaders who rule a large organization, Urume is used to luxury. He knows he can get whatever he wants. And if he doesn't want money, he wants women."
Tenten felt her blood turn to ice water.
"I know the owner of the Yumuwa, and she knows you are coming. I've told her she has no reason to become too involved, but she has allowed an agent of mine to work as a servant girl at the hot springs for the duration of this mission. You must seduce him into believing you're interested in him. There's nothing that pleases a man more than thinking a beautiful lady wants him of her own will. I need him to think that he can trust you. Get something out of him that will either lead us to intercepting his plans or stop them before they happen. The last thing Konoha needs is a stealing of the medical supplies and then used for drugs. That could lead to international disputes, even war." At seeing the look on Tenten's face, Tsunade smiled reassuringly. "Look, you won't need to actually do anything. Give a little acting, but it's your discretion on how you trick him. There's nothing to—"
"Tenten can't do it." Neji's voice interposed the Hokage with calm tones, but a glance at his face showed tension on his forehead. The young female ninja shot him an expression of surprise, but he didn't return any look toward her. "She's never done anything like that before."
Tenten almost glared at her childhood team member. Even though it was true, he didn't have to say it like she was the most inexperienced girl in the world!
"Oh?" Tsunade leaned forward, cupping her chin in her palm, and her eyes sparkled with interested. "And how do you know that, Neji?"
"Tsunade-sama," came Shizune's exasperated plea.
"Oh, don't fuss, Shizune. Indeed, Neji, I thought about sending someone a little more, ah… cunning, such as Ino. But she's a little reckless, and this mission requires caution."
Neji's hand tightened almost imperceptibly on the map he held. "Also," he said, dodging the teasing question, "she's not old enough. Shinobi law states—"
"That a ninja must be eighteen years or older to go on an undercover assignment without special approval from the Hokage. I'm well aware of the rules, Neji, and I do agree that this mission isn't important enough at this point for my special approval. However…" Tsunade's voice was filled with amusement. "Tenten turns eighteen tonight at midnight. Don't you?"
Color rising in her cheeks to replace some of the paleness that had filled them, Tenten nodded wordlessly. She felt Neji's eyes on her, but this time it was she who didn't return the look.
"So that's settled then. You can leave precisely at that hour. The Yumuwa is about a half-day's journey away and it will be best you get there in the morning so that it looks like a shift change for the servant girls. I am expecting the best from you both." Tsunade flipped her blond hair over her shoulder and gave both of them a wide smile, ending on Tenten.
Tenten normally traveled lightly, but this time she found herself hiding more kunai and shuriken on her person than she ever had before. Tsunade had even said that if there was any fighting on this mission, it would be minimal.
She was nervous. Tenten knew that and wasn't about to pretend like she wasn't – at least not to herself. Neji, however, was another story.
They met at exactly midnight at the city gates. Like her, Neji had dressed for the night, covered toe to neck in black. They were well-made for traveling in the dark, Tenten with her dark hair and eyes that would camouflage her from enemies and make her surprise attacks that much more overpowering, and Neji with his long black hair and, of course, his Byakugan.
Neji asked her with his eyes whether she was ready to go, and Tenten gave a quick bob of her head that she hoped seemed confident. In unison, they opened the two doors of the gates just enough for their slim bodies to slip through, and then it was as though they had never been in Konoha.
They set off quickly, but they didn't hurry. Jumping from tree to tree kept them out of sight and off the road, and Neji was always in front with the map and using his family technique to make sure they didn't run into anyone on the way. They had to make sure that no one who knew them saw where they went lest their identities and location were accidentally revealed.
They went in silence for three hours, and it gave Tenten time to think. Now a full adult, she didn't feel at all different. Still, she supposed she would have to prove that she could handle herself and others on this mission. Tsunade had seemed fairly lighthearted about it, but the two had been able to tell how important success was to the village. Tenten hated the fact that whenever she thought about the picture in her pocket of the cruel-looking Urume Hidegaya, a lump like a cold stone formed in the pit of her stomach and made her feel sick. If she was going to be a good ninja, she had to become indifferent. She had to be like Neji.
The thing was, Neji had not come across as indifferent when he had told the Fifth that she could not perform the task given to her. It still irritated Tenten to think that he thought her so incapable, even if she didn't know herself how she would pull through. Though he had undoubtedly just been thinking of the mission, a part of Tenten that she rarely acknowledged in herself kept proposing the possibility that Neji had been concerned for her. While she would normally destroy the thought in an instant, there was the fact that he had pressed her age to Tsunade. But that couldn't mean anything either, could it? After all, he didn't even know when her birthday was, despite their five years of knowing each other.
No, she decided firmly. Hyuuga Neji had become a man who was focused only on the goals set before him. To achieve his destiny, he would put aside all obstacles. Even if that obstacle was a comrade. Tenten knew that. And she had stopped hoping for anything else a long time ago.
At the end of the fourth wordless hour, she couldn't take it anymore. With a few extra jumps, she was side-by-side with her quiet partner and said, "How long until we arrive?"
"Five more hours," came the terse reply. "We'll rest soon."
Tenten internally groaned. She would never survive unless he said something to her. But she knew the only thing he would discuss was the mission, and she was forced to go with that. "Have you thought about how you'll approach Urume?"
"The Fifth said that he respects men of business. My family has participated in enough entrepreneur ventures that I can relate."
She nodded, an amused smile curving her lips. "So you'll act like a rich kid."
He grunted in reply, and she laughed softly. It felt for a fraction of a moment like it had been during their Team Gai days, except that Gai wasn't there to comment on her "illustrious youthful humor," and Lee wasn't there to fully agree with their sensei while tears streamed down both their faces.
But those days were done. Rarely did Gai accompany any of their missions anymore, and she had discovered that Lee was on a separate mission with Chouji. (She couldn't help but wince at the idea.)
"Huh?" Tenten had been so sure that she would need to initiate any and all conversation that she almost missed it entirely when Neji asked the question.
When she looked at him, his face was still turned forward, his jaw set in concentration. "I said 'have you'? Thought about how you'll get Urume to trust you?"
Her heart beat a little faster, and it wasn't because she had to jump particularly high to avoid a bird's nest on a tree branch. "A little," she murmured. "I guess I'll have to be nice to him."
He practically ground out the words, and Tenten pressed her lips together. "He's not going to take advantage of me, Neji. I know better than to let some pervert—"
"How will you stop him without ruining the mission?" he cut her off.
The angry heat that had built up a moment ago instantly cooled, and it was a wonder steam didn't rise from Tenten's inner thoughts. She was silent for a moment, then admitted, "I don't know yet."
"That's what you have to think about."
The anger returned, but this time the majority of it was directed at Neji. "It's also what you don't have to think about," she told him fiercely. "I know what I have to do. There's no leader to this team, Neji. We're working together. As equals."
He looked at her sideways with his pale eyes, but Tenten didn't see it because she was so irritated and focusing on what was ahead of her. "It's been a while," he said as though in justification.
"Maybe," she snapped. "But we're not children anymore. I can watch my own back now."
Even she didn't know why what he'd said had gotten her so worked up, but after a few minutes, Tenten told herself to calm down. Yet some of her remained disgruntled by the Hyuuga.
For the first time, Tenten was pleased by Neji's non-talkative nature.
The sun was just rising when they arrived at the Yumuwa Inn. The owner, a little wizened woman who had apparently gotten used to her establishment being used as a trapping place, was more than happy to help how she could and suggested that they both get a few hours' rest before they began with the work. Neji disliked the idea, but Tenten managed to convince him that without sleep they wouldn't be able to be as believable to Urume.
Neji was taken to the room he would use as a guest during their mission, and Tenten was shown to a set of servants' quarters and given her own small space. Before she was able to sleep, the owner showed her around the inn so that she would seem familiar with it before the rest of the guests woke up. The owner assured Tenten that she would be working mostly around Urume, according to Tsunade's orders, and her job would consist of serving tea and sake in the men's baths.
With that news, it felt like the cold stone in her stomach exploded, and her nerves battered her so hard that she had to race back to her room to be physically sick.
"You can do this," she whispered to herself once her stomach was empty. The shaking hands that she clenched into fists said otherwise. "Tenten! It's a mission. You can do this!"
Who would have thought she would be such a baby? She hated herself as she lay down on the floor, sweating and almost panting as she thought of the day ahead of her. She had heard of the stage fright that actors experienced right before a performance, but she imagined that this was somehow much worse.
After several minutes of low-key panic, she replaced fear with self-impatience and reprimanded herself thoroughly. Hadn't she been angry with Neji just a few hours ago for treating her like a Genin? Sitting up and leaning back against a wall of her tiny room, she thought hard.
She had heard men in Konoha casually joke about visiting hot springs. How the girls that had served there were always coy little women who were shy and accepted teasing with a blush and a bow. How the towels around their slender bodies sometimes came close to falling off in the water…
"Damn it." All men were perverts, she decided viciously. She would have to watch Neji and make sure none of the other girls were catching his eye too much. After that thought, she nearly chuckled. Neji could never be so distracted. Now Tenten saw why Naruto and Kiba hadn't been candidates for this assignment.
Once she thought it through, she decided that she didn't really have it so bad. Tsunade-sama would never ask her to do something that she thought would truly endanger her, no matter how ridiculous the Hokage sometimes was. Besides, Tenten had heard stories of kunoichis going through much harder trials than what she was facing. Even Kurenai-san had undertaken some fairly degrading missions, and she had never been seriously harmed.
She went in and out of sleep for two hours before the owner came in and gave Tenten the towel she would be wearing to serve in the hot spring. Tenten half grimaced at the insubstantiality of the garment. As she busied herself by strapping kunai to her upper legs and waist, where they would be well-hidden, the owner showed her how to knot the corners of the towel beneath her right elbow so that it slipping off was close to impossible.
"When you are ready, please proceed to hot spring number two. That's the largest, where Urume-sama sepnds most of his time. Kana-sama is already there."
"Kana-sama?" The old woman nodded, and after a moment, Tenten realized she was talking about Neji. "I see," she murmured. "Thank you."
The woman left her alone, and though she had planned to take a few minutes to mentally prepare herself, she decided it would only work her up again. Picking up a tray of tea and sake that the woman had instructed her to use, Tenten took a deep breath. She hurried out of her room and through the inn until she reached the door that led out into the second hot spring.
After one more mind-clearing breath, Tenten went to her knees and slid back the rice-paper door liked a proper servant. Without raising her eyes, she switched to the other side and closed it the same way. Then she rose to her bare feet and walked in small strides to the edge of the hot spring. Narrow wooden steps had been built to lead down to a stone landing. She stepped into the steaming water with caution, careful not to tip her tray. Once she had gotten her footing, she lifted her eyes to the bathers present.
Three men were chatting amicably, wet towels folded on their heads. A fourth man, younger than the rest, was no other than Neji. His long hair had been pulled into a ponytail tied close to the base of his skull, and it altered his appearance surprisingly much. He watched the others with a steady gaze and didn't look at her. Tenten briefly wondered if she hadn't yet been noticed, and she realized that she was moving too silently, like a ninja. Girls that hadn't been trained to move like part of the night were not soundless, and she understood at once that she had to be louder. As she walked forward in the water, she did what first came to mind and made a little coughing noise.
The chatter stopped at once, something that is only natural to happen when men are distracted by a member of the opposite sex, and when all faces turned to her, Tenten immediately recognized the bright green eyes and crooked nose as belonging to Urume Hidegaya. She met his eyes before anyone else's and plastered a smile on her face.
"Good morning," she said softly. Her voice was slightly high-pitched from nerves that she had trouble getting under control, but she decided it was most likely best that way. It made her sound even younger than she was, and Urume probably liked that.
It appeared she was right because as all four men returned the greeting in kind, Urume was the loudest. A huge grin widened his face, and he didn't look at all like the picture Tsunade had shown her and Neji the day before. "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?"
Tenten inclined her head respectfully, glad that there were more people around the just Urume and Neji. It meant that she didn't have to focus so much on Urume right now. She turned first to a chubby man on her left that was closest to her. "Would you like tea or sake?" she asked politely, offering the contents of her floating tray.
The man smiled somewhat shyly at her, and she concluded he was just a normal guest rather than an associate of Urume's. Taking a cup from the tray, he held it out with pudgy fingers. "Tea, please, miss. It's too early for sake."
"Oh, surely not, Jurishi-san!" chortled Urume from behind her, and Tenten felt goose-bumps sprout up on the back of her neck. His voice was lighthearted but the potential for darkness was there. "The morning's half gone. I'll take sake."
Taking his announcement as a sort of cue, Tenten hardened her smile and turned around to face him directly. "Of course," she murmured, trying to sound gracious. She approached him more cautiously than she probably should have, but Urume didn't notice. She poured him sake without her hand shaking, something she was very proud of. She felt his eyes remain on her as she moved to the muscular man sitting near him who was without a doubt his bodyguard. He said nothing of which beverage he preferred, so Tenten took a guess and held a cup of tea out to him.
The bodyguard studied her face closely as he took the cup from her hand. The man was so big that the towel on his head made him look amusing, but no one would dare to laugh. He spoke without warning: "We haven't seen you here before, Urume-sama and I."
"Oh." Tenten scrambled for a story, something that would sound real and not made-up on the spot. "Well, I—"
"Amaya usually only works here in the fall. She's not a full-time servant." Neji's voice was calm and sounded almost bored as he explained. Relief flooded her, and she slackened her tense shoulders as she turned to him with her tray.
Neji regarded her as any normal rich man would regard ant normal servant girl – with detached interest, which was truthfully not too different from how he really did treat her these days. "Tea," he told her simply and held out a cup for her to fill. She did so with ease, mentally thanking Neji's fast thinking.
"You seem to know her well," commented Urume with interest. "But I've never seen you here before either."
Neji smiled with unreal ease. He didn't fully smile often, and Tenten was impressed by how comfortable he made himself look. "I usually only come here in the fall as well."
Urume raised an eyebrow and cast a look at Tenten. "I can see why. What did you say your name was?"
"Hiraya Kana," lied the Hyuuga without batting an eyelash. Tenten wondered just how many undercover missions Neji had been on.
"Nice to meet you," Urume said with pleasantness, "but I meant the girl."
This time she managed to answer for herself. "Amaya," she murmured. Turning to look at Urume, she bowed as best she could in the water. "Takane Amaya."
"Takane," Urume repeated thoughtfully, "Amaya." After a moment, his smile returned full-force and his tone lightened. "It seems you're the star here."
After studying him for just a moment, Tenten felt some of the nervousness seep out of her. There was something about the way he watched her that made her feel suddenly more confident about her mission. Remembering what the villagers back home had said about hot spring girls, she attempted a playful smile like the ones Ino was so good at and held out the sake bottle to refill his glass.
"I don't know, Urume-sama. Perhaps it is you that is the star."
To Be Continued.