A/N: Welcome to my second NejiTen multi-chap! This is actually the second draft of this fic's first chapter, taking the story in a completely new direction and with more length. Some stuff at the beginning has stayed, but most of it is new. I advise you to reread if you caught the first draft. (Anyone who can name the most changes gets a long drabble request!)
Even the title (previously Never Simple) had changed. I hope all the people who already it can forgive me. Grin It's actually a lot more adult than before, so please heed the rating. This first chapter has limey bits.
Again, this is a potential sequel to my one-shot, Right Before His Eyes.
Warning: Spoilers for Naruto and Naruto II.
Note: All chapter titles are bits of lyrics from Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fanfiction.
Daring to Bleed
Chapter One: Now Another Land
Her eyes hurt because the sky was so blue. She could only remember seeing robin's eggs quite that blue, but the dark of the nest they rested in always toned them down. But there was no combination of twigs, cobwebs, and dry leaves to tone down the sky; it had only a sun that glared down on her, burning with its fury.
Not to mention that she hadn't seen a single robin the whole time she'd been staying in the Land of Wind. That was to be expected, of course. She couldn't blame the robins for rejecting the dry, hot region that held almost nothing but rocks and sand and a few, scattered oases that had to be journeyed to monthly in order to refill the village's water supply. Birds weren't meant for so rugged an area; the few winged creatures she saw daily were large mean-looking scavengers that feasted on carrion and took shelter on the roofs and in the rafters of the open-air pavilions in the Hidden Village of Sand.
Tenten paused in her task of hammering what would be a katana and looked up with a noiseless gasp. She wasn't really seeing what was in front of her (although it happened to be the offices of the Kazekage across the street), and her mouth had dropped open.
Oh no, she had begun to miss the birds.
It had been three years since the day she had arrived in Suna to work for Gaara of the Desert, former enemy of her hometown and current Kazekage. The young leader had been working more than usual lately, finishing the paperwork on the completion of the two new citizen villages that had been erected in the last few years so that they could begin production on a third. It had been commented that the construction would never have been finished with so quickly had not volunteers from other countries come to help. Tenten heard these offhand remarks on the street and in the market from time to time and was instantly filled with reassurance.
She had made the right decision, coming here. There were dozens of houses and apartments that had been built. Families that had before lived in streets now had homes to raise their children in. The economy was starting to flourish, despite the country's shortage of fertile soil; metalworking and glass created from sand had proven to make quite the profit for the desert dwellers. Even the ninja village Tenten was currently living in had begun to receive more mission requests, and the Sand was thriving from the income as it never had before.
Tenten found satisfaction in knowing that she had helped to make such a reality. This land did not have enriched roots buried deep like Konoha. There was no such closeness, and it was not blessed with the same fertility and sense of trust. If anything, the country was known for its history of survival. But now they did more than just survive; they really lived, too. It showed each day in the eyes of the people.
So she had no regrets. But she did indulge in the occasional longing for emerald grass and chromium waterfalls, for companionship like she had known in her Academy days, for the sense of belonging that had come from being in a team.
The summer day was nothing but blistering heat and trembling air, much like most days in the Sand, but the dark-colored robes Tenten wore protected her from both sun and soaring temperatures. The small metal shop she ran was thankfully air-conditioned, and she sold all of her wares inside of it. However, she did the actual forging and grinding outside in front of the shop and was shaded by the overhead terrace that had come with her apartment above the shop. She loved the place, both to work and to live in. Gaara had commissioned it for her within the first month of her arrival. Tenten had at first pleaded that she didn't need such extravagant property, that she could perform her craft just as easily with one half the size. But Gaara had not allowed her to settle for anything less and so for three years she had lived in comfort she had never known or needed. She had used the shop to her advantage, though, to train others in the art of weapons-making. And although the day had been hot and long, she was proud of the hard hours. In a few minutes, it would be closing time and she would leave her metal fires to cool in favor of more relaxed time.
She had been summoned by the Kazekage.
Well, "summoned" was hardly the right word. And neither was name of the person. She was meeting him at a restaurant that had just opened for a late dinner. It was eight o' clock now, and it was rare for Gaara the Kazekage to finish with work any earlier than eight-thirty. But she had received a letter from his office after returning from her morning training with Temari, and Gaara the man had wished to see her tonight.
By the time Tenten had finished hanging up tools and putting away current projects, she had only a little over a half-hour to get ready and meet with Gaara at nine. Racing through the shop – past shelves of shuriken and boxes of senbon – she bounded up the stairs and practically threw herself into a lukewarm shower (it was too hot in this area to put on full heat). Twenty minutes later, she was dressed and retying up her hair in the customary twin buns. Considering who she was to be dining with, she wore a more formal set of robes in dark purple with a few sparkling rhinestones along the neckline that slanted from her left shoulder to underneath her right shoulder. She opted for plain black sandals with a short heel. After only a moment of debate, she lightly dusted her face with a thin coat of makeup and added a touch of glinting crystal earrings that had been a birthday present from Yamanaka Ino years earlier.
He hadn't seen this set of robes yet. He'd seen the green ones and the blue ones, and he had once said something about wondering how she would look in red, but purple was the pick of the evening. She had yet to find any robes dyed pink. It was still odd, even after performing this exact process several times now. Certainly she had never gotten this dressed up for Konoha's Hokage. She usually told herself that because she was not originally from Suna, and she wanted to set an example of respect for the other non-native volunteers.
In the end, she had to admit that she went this out of her way because she had, for the last three months, been discreetly dating Gaara of the Desert.
With a small that usually came on whenever she was surprised all over again with the power of attraction, Tenten quickly and methodically slipped a certain number of shuriken and kunai into her sleeves (adding a couple extra senbon into the strands of her dark hair) and left the house.
It was a short walk to the restaurant which, despite the obviously impressive budget used to build it, was small and intimate. Only civilians with a larger-than-average paycheck would be able to dine here, and as Tenten entered, she felt eyes arrow toward her immediately. This was one thing about being involved with Gaara she could never get accustomed to. Though for the most part their relationship had gone unnoticed, the upper classes of Suna who tended to be in the same circles of the Kazekage and his siblings heard and saw a lot more than any regular working-class villagers.
There was a ripple of anxiety flowing through the visible staff, confirming that Gaara had already arrived. Tenten wasn't surprised. They had met like this before, and each time he was waiting for her instead of it being the other way around. He never allowed anyone the chance to beat him to the punch in anything.
Heads craned toward the back of the restaurant told her where he was, and she walked confidently past the smattering of staring patrons to join him. He sat in the corner booth by the window, facing the door and her. She took in his state of dress, seeing he had on the plain black robes he wore daily. She guessed he had come straight from his office, and noticed with interest how the sunset outside gave his auburn hair a golden tint. He was without his Gourd at present, and Tenten figured he had checked it. She smiled, picturing a befuddled maitre d taking the heavy, sand-filled gourd from his village leader.
His eyes she looked at last only to find them already on her. She was grateful for the room's dim lighting when a deep flush bloomed over her cheeks. To keep up appearances, she bowed low before him. "Good evening, Kazekage-sama." She could feel the tension in her throat as she spoke.
Undoubtedly as conscious as she of their handful of spectators, Gaara said nothing. He simply raised a hand and motioned for her to sit down. At twenty-two, he looked much more the commanding figure than he had at fifteen. Tenten remembered one of the few times she had seen him relaxed and off-guard; when he'd been dead. They didn't discuss that time, of course, beyond the fact that Gaara knew she had been there. He had opened up in the eight years that had gone by – especially to his siblings and, with time, to her – but for the most part he was still an intimidating, taciturn man.
As he should be, she mentally added. The Sand expected control, and Gaara was just the type to demand and instill it. But she was still amazed that she had found it so easy to become friends with such an abrasive person. Not only that, but they had managed to win affection out of each either, even if the challenge tended to feel like an ongoing game of tug-of-war.
A small smile crossed her faced as she slid into the booth bench opposite him. In that aspect, getting to know Gaara wasn't too different from once being teammates with…
The stray thought flew from her mind as her knee brushed his for just an instant below the table before her ankles crossed and she settled. She had a strong desire to fuss with the skirt of her robes and nearly chuckled to herself. There was no reason for her to still be so nervous around Gaara.
Determined to gain control of herself, she cleared her throat. "How are our options?"
Gaara watched her flip open the menu with his distinctive cerulean eyes, made brighter by the dark liner that surrounded them. "Suited to your tastes," he answered bluntly. "Pasta from the Land of Fire."
"Mmm." Her gave skimmed hungrily over the various noodle dishes. Were she to look up, she would have noticed a similar hunger starting to make itself known on Gaara's normally-expressionless features. "It's almost too hot for ramen," she murmured.
"Wine?" he offered. Tenten nodded, and he motioned to a younger server with trembling hands. He was a kid, their junior by only a few years, and he was apparently eager to impress his Kazekage. Tenten knew that Gaara wasn't one to be either pleased or displeased by dining service and kept herself alert to the boy's movements just in case he ended up dropping the wine and she needed to save the establishment from paying for another expensive bottle.
The server didn't let it fall, however, and only managed to spill a few red drops on the pristine white tablecloth while pouring her glass. She shot him a sympathetic smile before ordering a cool salad and half-portion of ramen. Gaara had no salad and a full bowl, curiously reminding Tenten of Uzumaki Naruto. Gaara seemed to loosen up a bit when the menus were taken away and there were no longer any obstacles between them.
His tone was soft as he commented. "You're hungry tonight."
"Your sister didn't go easy on me in training this morning. I spent half the day replenishing by shuriken supply because she bent them all." She saw the corner of his mouth twitch and knew he was amused. Tenten detected Gaara's sense of humor the same way Sakura once said she'd detected Uchiha Sasuke's: with attention to detail.
Tenten was at once surprised with herself, though the kunoichi that she was did not allow her to express it. She was certainly thinking a lot about Konoha and the people she had known there today.
"What about you?" she returned in as much of an attempt to distract herself as to get him to talk to her. "Is office work going well?"
He shrugged one shoulder. "It's hard for signing papers to go badly."
Feeling small in the face of his unwavering stare, Tenten looked to her left to see out the window. She watched as villagers were returning home to their spouses, parents, siblings, pets… Not much different from Konoha. She hadn't thought so yesterday.
Brown eyes whipped back to blue-green ones when Gaara gently laid a hand on hers. "Gaara-san?" she murmured in surprise. Despite their relationship status, Tenten hadn't yet been able to stop using honorifics for his name. It had taken him nearly three weeks to convince her to at least drop the –sama.
Gaara did not speak with words. Instead, he studied the pale crystal earrings that dangled near her neck and flashed in the lamplight. Around them, she could hear the whispers increasing.
"People are watching you," she told him. Her voice somehow stayed soft and became urgent at the same time. Tenten's fingers, steadily growing warmer, flexed beneath his cooler ones.
"No," differed the desert shinobi. "They're all watching us."
Tenten's mouth opened, but she had no words. The server saved her by bringing their food. She made a mental note to tip him well as Gaara drew his hand away.
The conversation, though sparse because of Gaara's quiet nature, remained light throughout dinner. Tenten did most of the talking, telling him about certain types of weapons she was trying to improve creatively and how she would be training solo for the next couple of weeks when Temari left the next day to fulfill her biannual ambassador duties in Konoha. By the time they had finished eating, Gaara had promised to book two and a half hours for only her each morning at the training grounds.
He rose to pay the check, and Tenten stood up with him out of respect. In the light of the large, overhead chandelier, the rhinestones on her robes threw little spots of multi-colored shines over her neck and face and hair. Gaara actually stopped in signing the bill to flick his eyes toward her. It lasted only a moment, and then he finished and walked around the table.
"I'll walk you home," he said, and the tone left no room for the protest she had tried to give him on their first date. She had found out the hard way how stubborn Gaara could be. Tenten only murmured a word of thanks and followed him to the exit, making sure he remembered to pick up the huge sand Gourd on their way out.
Night had fallen, and stars peeked out of blue-gray clouds to spy on the pair as they walked down the street back toward Tenten's apartment. It wasn't the first time she had experienced such privacy with Gaara before, but whenever she was alone with him, she always managed to feel somehow inferior. It had nothing to do with warrior talent; they had never let their ninja status affect their relationship, especially since neither of them had seen much beyond the inside of an office or a shop ever since the two villages had been completed.
When they were near enough to her shop for her to begin reaching for the key in her sleeve, his voice carried on the wind over to her ears. "Don't you fear me, Tenten?"
Her hand froze inside her robes. Looking over her shoulder at where Gaara had stopped walking in order to keep a safe distance, she hurried to decide how to reply to the question. She wasn't surprised that he had asked such a thing; she'd honestly been expecting it since the first time he had kissed her…so unsurely, so carefully as though by holding her too tightly he would shatter her. So Gaara never held her very long. The dilemma was whether to answer with cheerfulness or solemnity.
Cheerfulness won out and Tenten gave him a smile bright enough to pierce the night's darkness and the cloud always trying to blacken Gaara's heart. "Gaara-san, you're too good to scare me." Sliding her key into the lock and turning, she opened the door—
—and was pushed inside without warning. Just as quickly, the door was slammed shut at her back to kill any available light, and she felt hands gripping her upper arms to press her firmly against the smooth wood of the door. Her head hit the panel but not hard enough to hurt her. Without even a second to get her bearings, Tenten's breath was robbed by another mouth sealed unexpectedly to hers. Some part of her registered that it was Gaara who was kissing her, but even more parts insisted that this was different. Gaara had never been so fast before, so…needy. As her eyes closed and her hands moved up muscled, cloth-covered chest so her arms could wrap around his neck. He was shaking loose some hidden inches of her, inches she'd tried to keep locked up for three years. Surprise mixed with want and had her groping at any loose part of his robes.
His swift fingers had already undone the top few buttons at the back of her robes. A deep sound tore from his throat and he ripped his lips away from hers to press them to her jaw, her neck, the shoulder left bare by her robes. He then moved back to heft her up with a strong arm at the backs of her thighs. The Gourd prevented Tenten from getting good purchase on his back, so she clung to his shoulders while lifted her from the floor and carried her up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
He half-burst into her bedroom and let her drop to the floor so he could unbuckle the straps of his Gourd. The big shell fell with a dull thump to the carpet. By the time he had stripped off the shirt of his robes to reveal suntanned skin, Tenten had already reclined on the spacious bed that had come with the apartment. It was the first time she had ever waited on him.
Gaara was on her in seconds, lowering his lips to hers at a slower speed this time but with twice as much passion. Tenten swore she could taste blackberries, kissing him. Maybe it was just the wine from earlier or maybe she couldn't make sense of the world anymore because it was spinning, spinning, spinning…
He moved up the bed toward the pillows, taking her with him. Her hair was threatening to fall down, and she felt the rumble of his soft laugh when he found the senbon tucked within it. Tenten rolled with him until she was balancing over him, able to see the way his eyes glinted with lust like cut sapphire. One of his hands slid up the mattress, underneath the pillow she usually slept on, and then he went still. Tenten paused as well, wondering what had stilled him.
Gaara pulled out from beneath the pillow an object that gleamed and flashed in the moonlight that seeped in from the window. Tenten's eyes widened when she saw what it was; the first kunai she had made upon coming to stay in Suna, superfluously ornate with a tasseled handle, and there as a ready weapon in case someone were to sneak into her room while she was sleeping.
And Gaara was holding it by the blade she had sharpened just last week.
"Careful! I'm so sorry," she began babbling, moving off of him. "I should have moved it. Did you cut yourself when you…" Tenten trailed off when, even with the poor lighting, she saw the several hundreds of miniscule sand grains that worked as a thin yet strong barrier between Gaara's flesh and the blade. There wasn't so much as a drop of blood on Gaara's hand. And, now that she thought about it, he didn't sport a single scar anywhere on his naked chest, something that should not be possible for a shinobi as high-caliber as he.
Inexplicably affected, Tenten scooted to the side of the bed to assure some distance between her and Suna's Kazekage. Reaching out, she flipped on a lamp and sighed. "I'm sorry, Gaara-san."
She felt him shift on the mattress and looked back to see his bitter grimace. "It's my fault," he replied steadily. "I had no intention of entering your home tonight. I just…you said that to me, and I…acted."
"You're too good to scare me." She had said that. "You're too good…"
How long had Gaara been waiting for words like that? Tenten felt a pain in her chest and looked away from him. "I'm sorry," she repeated, pushing stray hair away from her eyes. Even if the words were useless to him, she meant them. All he had been through…it made her wish she could help him.
But not this way. Not with lust and physical drive. Gaara had been taught with forceful action his whole life. Tenten suspected that what he really needed was time, understanding, and most of all, gentleness.
It was an unspoken agreement that he would leave in a minute, so she stood up to take the kunai from him after he'd donned his shirt again. He passed it to her, hand touching hers a bit longer than necessary, and after a few awkward moments, he lifted his eyes to hers.
"I've been keeping something from you. Something I should have told you when I first found out a week ago." Gaara rushed on with his message, seeming to want it over with. "I received word from Konoha concerning the commencement of the third village's construction."
Tenten blinked. "Konoha?"
He nodded. "Hokage Tsunade informed me that your village's special unit, ANBU, found out that another nation is planning to infiltrate the Land of Wind while Suna is busy overseeing the construction and take advantage of it somehow. The informant is said to be the best. And Tsunade is sending new arrivals from your hometown here to assist us."
She smiled unconsciously. The only person from Konoha that she had seen in the three years she'd been here was Nara Shikamaru, who was apparently a village representative in addition to being a teacher at the Academy. He had, like Tenten, achieved Jounin status and came annually to the Sand in order to compare notes with Temari.
"I'm sorry," he went on in low tones, "for not telling you sooner. I…" Gaara either retreated or was speechless, both possibilities equally likely and unlikely.
"It's fine," Tenten told him honestly. "I don't blame you for wanting me undistracted. The shop and the trainees needed me this week." Even as she spoke, she wished he would come out and tell her who was coming. "Are they shinobi?"
He nodded once, a swift confirmation. "I'm told you know them well. Apparently Temari tried recruiting them before, but they didn't get clearance to leave Konoha." She thought of Ino and Sakura off the bat. She had worked with them in a trial team in the weeks before leaving Konoha. Ino had been especially disappointed in her rejection. As for Sakura, Tsunade-sama simply could not spare her apprentice for that long. Temari had been annoyed with Tsunade for weeks.
Impatience rearing its head, Tenten gave Gaara an anxious look. "Who are they, Gaara?" She realized a moment too late that she had forgotten her honorific, but it seemed Gaara appreciated the lack.
Gaara blinked, and then did something Tenten had never seen him do before. He reached up and ran a hand through his hair, a nervous action. Then again, he had done a lot of things tonight that she had never seen him do before.
"Rock Lee—" Joy speared through her, and she gasped, but Gaara plowed on before she could make any sort of happy exclamation. "—and Hyuuga Neji."
She missed the sharpness in his voice as he said the second name because Tenten had suddenly frozen. Her brown eyes widened, barely seeing, as she stared into the Kazekage's aquamarine ones.
"Neji," she whispered to herself. The kunai slipped from her hand and landed with a clatter on the hardwood floor. In the next moment, she recovered and was able to find her voice. "And Lee. When…when do they arrive?"
Gaara's gaze sharpened a little. If she had been able to focus any better, Tenten might have noticed the scrutiny with which he regarded her. "Tomorrow afternoon."
Tenten's jaw dropped, and she stared at him in something close to shock. "Tomorrow!"
It was the closest thing to panic Gaara had ever seen her exude, and he immediately took her subconscious hint for him to go. Tenten watched as he took up his Gourd and moved toward the door. "I'll see myself out," he murmured quietly when she began to follow him.
"Gaara-san." Her gaze went from the bed to the window to his hard face. "I didn't mean to—"
He cut her off by softly pressing his lips to hers. Even after what had transpired between them, Tenten didn't feel anything as passionate as she had fifteen minutes ago.
"Goodnight," she whispered right before he turned to descend the stairs. It wasn't until she heard the door close behind him that she stepped back and flounced down on her bed, bouncing lightly. On the bedside table that held her gently glowing lamp rested the detailed kunai that had ended her unplanned evening with Gaara.
And began an even more unexpected reunion with, of all people, Hyuuga Neji.
Her stomach twisted. Tenten actually felt sick as images from three years ago flashed tauntingly through her mind. She was looking forward to seeing Lee. She was even, on some level, looking forward to seeing Neji.
But mainly Tenten wanted to just crawl into bed and stay until her past came and went, passing her by. It had gone this far without her, why couldn't it just continue on?
Gaara, she thought, but the name that was formed by her lips wasn't that one.
To Be Continued…