A/N: Welcome to the first-ever collaboration by Goldberry and myself, NessieGG. We're very excited about this project, which was Berry's fantastic idea, and we hope you enjoy it!
How It Works: We'll be taking turns posting our fics. I've gone first, and then Berry will be next, and so on for a total of 22 NejiTen stories.
Note: All the fics are based off of tarot cards and their meanings.
Disclaimer: We do not own Naruto and are making no profit off of these humble fanworks.
His eyes open, twin spheres of white fire that glow in the night and burn into her profile. Tenten doesn't turn to meet his gaze because she already knows what she'll find there. The only thing Neji has ever openly shown her.
It isn't that he doesn't think she can do it. He knows she can, but it's the simple matter of whether or not she should that arranges his face into a stone-hard display of dubiousness. His faith in her is kept inside, too deep for her or anyone else to see. But she knows that it, like all the rest of his feelings, is there. It's the same way one is sure of the bottom of the ocean being real.
She sometimes finds herself wishing that something else, anything other than that show of uncertainty is a little closer to the surface. But that is who Neji is…the genius.
Standing with her at the top of the steep hill that is only a few degrees short of being a cliff, Neji watches her as she takes weapons strapped to her legs and moves them to the backpack she wears. "It's too dark. You can't even see the bottom from up here."
"I can see the treetops," she assures him. "Meaning the ground isn't too far below them." Completing her task, she finally looks up and almost winces at the relentless cold emanating from his stare. The warm night has sweat beading along her brow, and Neji makes her want to shiver. But she expects him to fight. Like always. "Besides, it's my fault Lee was captured. If I had killed that Cloud-nin right away, he wouldn't have been—"
"Stop it." His sharp tone silences her at once, and Neji folds his arms. "The fault belongs to no one. Lee accepts the risks as much as any of us."
Guilt rolls around her stomach and makes her queasy, but Tenten holds her ground and faces her partner with a tough look of her own. "He's our teammate, Neji. And I'm going to save him."
"Then let me…" Before he can say more, he sways, and Tenten darts out to steady him so that he doesn't fall to the grass. She sits him down gently, kneeling to stay on eye level with him. Tenten presses her lips together at the sight of him; his Hyuuga family gi, rumpled and torn in places, is stained with blood that isn't his. The fall of long hair over his shoulder is tangled and clumped with dirt. Worst of all is that his skin is nearly as pale as his eyes because he's used too much chakra to fight the ten-member Cloud squad that their three-man team had faced only twenty minutes ago.
Tenten smirks as she rubs his shoulders, trying to work up better circulation for him. "You're not going anywhere. You wouldn't get more than five steps down the slope before your chakra gives out and you fall the rest of the way down."
"It's a trap, Tenten." A hand comes up and grips her forearm. His fingers are cold enough to make her reflexively jerk, but he holds on. "There's at least four of them waiting for you. More if they had reinforcements down there the whole time." His pearly eyes flick over to survey the abandoned battlefield to his left. The grass in the field has been reddened with enemy blood. Men that had once filled the air with battle calls now lay silent and motionless, slain by the edge of Tenten's sword, Lee's hand, or Neji's Kaiten. Six of them in total, two for each. Tenten should have had a third, but she had hesitated upon seeing the fear in his eyes, and a ninja behind her had placed a kick to her side, giving her would-be victim the chance to jump away and grab Lee. They had all fled down the hill in seconds, their hostage grasped firmly.
Tenten stands up and raises her eyes to the star-spilled sky above them. "I know that," she murmurs. Blinking, she angles her head to smile wryly down at him. "But it's my fate, isn't it?"
Neji grunts, unappreciative of her joke. She allows her face to go serious again.
"I'll be fine, Neji. Lee will be, too. And you." Turning her back to him, she looks out to the space where the earth ends, giving way to darkness and stars. In a few moments, she'll become part of that darkness while Neji watches. Tenten keeps her face emotionless but she's not as good at it as he is, and anxiety flashes in her eyes as she plants her feet and draws out her katana from the sheath at her hip.
But Neji can't see her eyes, and she's grateful for that. She can hear him breathing behind her, the loudest thing in her ears. He inhales sharply just before—
"We'll be home by morning," she says, and jumps.
"Ten—!" Air rushes past her, drowning out his voice and the rest of her name. Her chakra-sealing feet are sure and steady for several yards down. She trips once on an unseen rock, but after some clever movement and a low oath, Tenten gains her balance and finishes. She unconsciously thanks Gai-sensei for all of his rigorous training.
Dust rises as she lands at the bottom beneath slowly-swaying trees, and it takes a second for the world to stop shaking. Between strands of loose brown hair escaped from her buns, she sees the five figures standing in preparation. One of them is gagged but regards her with fierce determination, and the outward belief in her she never gets from Neji. That is Lee's job, and all three of them know that.
That's why he won't be dying tonight.
"Sorry I took so long," she mutters to him, raising her katana. All four ninja advance upon her, and she jumps back, using the hill as a brace while she thrusts out the blade and impales the first through the throat. In the same stroke, she cuts a second, killing him with a hit to his vitals using her free left hand.
The third is dead with a right-to-left horizontal technique that slices everything between his shoulders, and Tenten feels satisfaction for half of a moment before the fourth comes at her just as she is left completely open by her previous attack. And the Cloud-nin, the same one she didn't kill before, grins with a triumphant yell because he knows he has one. He knows that she will be dead in a second.
Her eyes widen, not with the fear she had kept so carefully hidden from the Hyuuga that sits a few hundred feets above her, but with the realization that she had lied to him. Neji…I'm sorr—
The thought ends with a flash of chakra as the Cloud-nin freezes right in front of her, hand still raised to deliver a finishing blow. His eyes are huge as they grow dim, and then he slumps, lifeless, to the ground where the last of his fellows lay.
The katana drops from her outstretched hand.
To her right, she sees him out of the corner of her eyes. He is only a blur of raven hair and moon-white eyes, but he is the most beautiful sight in the world. He shines against the death-dark night. Tenten turns to him, mouth agape.
"Neji," she breathes. Enough shock seeps out of her brain for her to talk. "What…why did you…?" Words are beyond her, and she simply swallows and waits.
Neji is hunched over, but he raises his sweat-dampened head to give her the same smirk she showed him earlier. "You were…wrong," he pants, shoulders rising and falling with the extra effort. "I got to ten steps…and it was…all I needed." The last of his energy expires, and he spills forward.
Tenten catches him, his head drooping against her blood-smeared shoulder. She cradles him against her and sighs as she lowers both of them to the ground. "Neji." Her hand runs through the black of his hair and strokes over his back.
By now, Lee has managed to free himself of his bounds and runs over. "Tenten! Neji…is he—"
"Unconscious," she tells him with a smile. "And will be for the next couple of days. He's used up all his chakra." She reaches for her katana with her burning arm and looks up to her newly-rescued teammate. "Can you carry him, Lee?"
The green-clad boy swells, flattered by her instant reliance on him. "It would be an insult to both your beautiful shows of exuberant youth if I did not take it upon myself to see our impulsive friend home safely!"
Impulsive, Tenten wonders as Lee takes Neji from her arms and settles him over his spandex-covered back. That's one way to put it. She thought that idiot was an even better description.
"Fool," she whispered admiringly to the sleeping Hyuuga. "You're such a fool, Neji."
And so am I.
But she was happy knowing that she was a fool – not a liar. They would be home by morning.
And they would be together.