Notes: WE LIVE!
NOT FOR ONE ALONE
"Neji! Neji! NEJI!"
"What?" Hyuuga Neji snapped, sliding open his window with more force than necessary. It was a cool, crisp evening and well after midnight, most others having taken to their beds long before. Neji had been meditating after returning from a long, mostly uneventful, mission and he'd been looking forward to a little peace and quiet now that he was home. Leave it to Rock Lee to ruin that notion.
His childhood teammate was standing in the courtyard, his hands cupped around his mouth as if his irritatingly loud voice somehow needed more amplifying. His shouting had drawn the curious gazes of some of Neji's family, not to mention the somewhat more suspicious looks of the estate's servants.
Lee's face cleared as he caught sight of him but his expression remained firm, worried almost. Neji's forehead creased but Lee spoke before he could ask what was wrong.
"You must come to the hospital, Neji. There's been… Something's happened."
Gai was waiting for them in the hospital lobby. He looked tired and drawn but when he saw Lee, the two embraced in a flurry of tears and green spandex. Neji ignored them both, walking past the lobby purposefully, letting his eyes lead him. A nurse called out to stop him but he ignored her, quickening his pace as he neared the familiar chakra signature.
Tenten's room was full of machines.
She wore an oxygen mask over her nose and mouth that misted briefly with her shallow breaths. It could not disguise, however, the terrible bruises over most of her face, her left eye swollen shut. There was blood at her hairline, though he could see one of her attendants had tried to clean most of it away, and more underneath her fingernails. Three fingers on her right hand were broken and her arm had been pulled into a sling for stability. The sheets hid the rest of her body but he had seen enough. Tenten had fought and she had been beaten, badly, most likely by at least two different people judging from the different hand-sized bruises on her arms.
He felt Lee and Gai enter the room at his back, Lee moving around to stand on the other side of Tenten's bed in order to hold her free, less-injured hand.
"What happened?" Neji asked lowly, hands fisted at his side. "She told me it was a peace keeping mission, that she was only to negotiate a small dispute."
Gai's hand squeezed his shoulder and there was strength in his grip despite the tears in his eyes. "We won't know for sure until she wakes up, but it looks like the mission was a trap, Neji. There was no dispute. The two parties were in league with each other to lure in a Konoha ninja."
Lee's eyebrows drew together. "But, Gai-sensei, why would anyone want to hurt Tenten? She has never hurt anyone without cause!"
"I do not know, Lee," Gai replied, his voice wobbling a bit. "Our precious flower was attacked without provocation! My own student, beaten within an inch of her life by those she was trying to protect!" This thought proved too much for Gai who broke down into tears, prompting a similarly watery outburst from his favorite student.
"Gai-sensei!" Lee wailed.
"Lee!" Gai burbled.
Neji left the room. There were no tears in him, only a terrible tightness in his chest, like the pressure of a coiled spring before motion. Tenten's bruised face hung in his mind's eye and it was all that he could see as he stopped a medic abruptly in the hall, watching as Shizune eyed him in disgruntled surprise.
"I need to see the Hokage," he said.
Tenten woke hours later to a dark room and something held over her face and for a brief, heart-pounding moment, she thought she was still behind held against her will. A machine nearby started to beep rapidly and she jerked as a hand came to rest on her shoulder gently, Neji's face appearing over her as he moved an oxygen mask down and away.
"It's alright. You're safe."
"Neji," she croaked, hoarsely, and then grimaced at the sound of her own voice, a movement that made every part of her face ache. There was something wrong with her eyes too. Her left one didn't seem to want to open more than a slit, making her field of vision somewhat murky and off. Her fingers ached fiercely.
"Hospital?" she managed, as her teammate leaned over to allow her a sip of water from a nearby cup.
"They brought you in a little before midnight. They found you collapsed beneath a tree outside the gates." Neji's expression was rigid, unmoving, but his eyes were alive, cataloguing her reactions. "Do you remember what happened?"
She looked away from him for a moment, trying to absorb the situation. Had it been just two days she had left for that tiny, remote village along the border? She had gone to mediate a dispute between two family clans, an inheritance squabble of some sort. She had thought it would be quick and easy, but when she had arrived…
"It was a lie," she murmured, swallowing. "They were waiting for me. I didn't understand what was happening…" Her good eye closed briefly and she felt Neji shift next to her, the sound of papers rustling. She looked over at him again he had a manila file in his hand.
"I talked to Tsunade. She said the village requested a certain shinobi for the mission, specifically, one trained by Maito Gai." Neji's voice was flat and she wished she could see better because she was having trouble reading him. Was he angry she had accepted the mission? She licked her lips and tried to focus on him.
"Yes, I was aware of that." She grimaced at a sudden, aching throb of pain from her left arm and fingers. "It didn't seem that unusual, and the request seemed so trivial I didn't think it was important. Besides, you were busy and Lee has never been good at mediation, it would have had to be me, anyway." She tried to smile then but it fell crookedly when it pulled against her bruises.
Neji leaned closer, his gaze intense, as if he could pull the answers out of her by sheer force of will alone. "Tenten, who did this to you? I want a name."
She blinked. "Neji, I think we should wait for…"
His chin lifted slightly and he looked down at her with that aristocratic arrogance he so often used on others, a look that said he was going to get what he wanted no matter what she thought. She sighed softly, suddenly feeling very, very tired.
"He said his name was Asura," she told him quietly. "He said Gai killed his father."
There was a moment of silence as she and Neji had a silent conversation before he leaned over and pressed a feather-light kiss to her forehead.
"Get some rest. I'll see you in the morning."
Urgently, she fought to sit up, crossing her good hand over her body to catch the edge of his shirt through the railing on the bed. "Please, Neji," she huffed, exhausted even from that little movement. "Don't tell Gai. I don't want him to know, he'll just blame himself. I escaped, that's all that should…" The monitor by her bedside starting beeping faster again and Neji carefully pressed her back onto the bed before she could say anything else, his fingers lingering on hers for just a moment.
"I won't tell him," he answered finally, watching her relax at his words.
"Thank you," she whispered, good eye fluttering closed. She felt his knuckles brush her cheek briefly and then sleep claimed her again and she knew nothing more.
Lee mumbled sleepily, rolling over to sprawl, limbs akimbo, over his bed. He'd been dreaming about racing Neji in 100 laps around the village and he was only on 89….
91! Oh, his eternal rival was good, but Lee had youthful charm and love on his side, there was no way he would lose to…
Lee woke abruptly as the covers were suddenly ripped off of him and he was dumped unceremoniously on the floor, the sheets thrown back into his face. When he finally surfaced from them, he found Neji standing in the middle of his bedroom, a slightly self-satisfied gleam in his eye.
"Get up. We're going."
Neji did not bring Lee inside the tiny village with him. He couldn't be for sure, but Lee might have objections to what he was about to do and he couldn't allow him to get in his way. Neji had told him where they were going and that he was going to dispense justice to those that had hurt Tenten, but he had been purposefully vague on the details of how. Let Lee think what he wanted. He would be safer that way.
The village was small, one of those places where everyone knew everyone so it wasn't hard to learn the whereabouts of a man he was looking for. Cloaked and hooded to hide the white of his eyes, his forehead protector in his pocket, Neji knocked on the door he had been told of. A few seconds later it opened to reveal a man a few years older than him, with short, dark hair and bandages wrapped around both wrists. He had scratches on his face as well, like those from fingernails.
Neji felt the tightness in his chest ease.
The man's expression grew suspicious. "Yes?"
"I heard you were looking for a student of Maito Gai?" Calmly, he pushed back his hood, invoking the Byakugan simultaneously, feeling the veins near his eyes swell with power. "Seems like you found me."
Asura took an unsteady step back. Neji calmly stepped inside and closed the door.
When she woke the next day, both Lee and Gai were there, along with Neji. Lee couldn't figure out how to hug her without hurting her so he settled with clinging to her hand and rubbing his cheek against the back of it as if he were some sort of demented kitten. It made her laugh though, which hurt quite a bit and she promptly decided to not do again, at least until she was healed.
Gai was his usual over-emotional self, dripping big, wet tears on her one moment and flashing a gleaming white smile at her the next, declaring that she would be better in no time because her youth was a fiery flame that could never be doused. It must not have been too fiery, however, as after about an hour the combination of both Lee and Gai had thoroughly exhausted her. Luckily, Neji noticed and kicked the pair of them out. They went good-naturedly, making grand plans for when she was released from the hospital and crowing with delight as each other's ideas. Tenten smiled to herself as they left.
"They never change," she murmured. Neji snorted as he shut the door behind them but didn't comment, settling himself instead in the chair by her bed. She watched him a long moment before asking the thing that had been on her mind for a while.
"Tell me you didn't go to that village last night." Neji merely looked at her, calm and unflinching, and she frowned. After a moment she asked, "Was it true what he said? Did Gai kill his father?"
"Yes," Neji replied quietly. "He was a causality of a mission Gai was heading up to retrieve information on Akatsuki a few years ago. They were caught in a pitched battled with two Akatsuki members and Asura's father was killed. He felt Gai had led his father to his death."
"So, he wanted to hurt Gai as he had been hurt," she offered, softly. Neji nodded.
"He told me it was justice, what he had done. He meant to kill you so that Gai would experience the pain of loss as well."
Tenten shifted slightly. "Justice…or vengeance?" she wondered aloud.
"I suppose it depends on your point of view," Neji replied evenly.
They sat in silence then, Tenten just soaking in the quiet, easy feeling that being with Neji sometimes brought, the knowledge that he didn't expect her to say anything, to make conversation she didn't feel like making. She didn't want to know what Neji had done to Asura. She knew he had not killed him and she understood that he could not have left it alone. Not when Asura would surely seek to complete his "justice" against Gai since he hadn't finished the job with her.
"It's sort of sad when you think about it," she said finally, stifling a yawn. She could feel her pain meds kicking in, offering a hazy, dreamless sleep. "It's a cycle that doesn't have an end."
Neji was quiet a moment. "Not as long as we have the strength to care for others," he agreed.