A/N: A fairly short one-shot, written for the November challenge at ten-squared. I've been wanting to write this one for a long while now, and I hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and I'm making no profit from this fan fic.
The air is charged with lightning, heat, and chakra. Blood stains the grass and weapons the little the ground. There is a strong scent riding on the wind, something without a certain name. Perhaps it's hate. Or failure.
Or maybe that mysterious hand of Fate has finally come reaching into their lives.
She doesn't feel pain until the rain begins to fall. It starts gently at first, both the pain and the rain, and then rapidly increases – like some kind of harmonious, agonizing crescendo.
That Cloud-nin had tried to sneak up on her. She'd pinned him to the earth in order to summon Shoshoryu, but the coward had called for one of his men to act as a human shield – to die at the smoky claws of a young woman's dragon while he waited around with his newly-saved, worthless life to attack her once more.
The coward had managed to plunge in three kunai; one at the crook of her right arm beneath the elbow, one at the base of her skull that had actually missed all buts bits of hair, and the last—
Thunder rolled and clapped and bellowed. Wind howled mockeries in her ears. Her vision blurred because he had stuck that last kunai just to the left of her heart.
She hasn't been caught by surprise before. Never. And she has never been injured by anything less than complex jutsus or overpowering martial artistry – weapons do not hurt her. They are extensions of her own body, she knows them more intimately than a lover knows his mistress.
And two, simple kunai are currently threatening her with death.
She is on her back, on the freezing ground. She isn't sure how long it's been since she was stabbed, since she has fallen. Ten seconds? Fifteen? Her chakra…she knows if she tried to use any she'll die. A brief thrill of humor zings through her fuzzy brain. The one of the first things they'd learned in the Academy was to never use so much chakra that use would end up running out. And here she was with mud slicking up into her armpits and a potentially ruined elbow, all because she'd forgotten – or ignored – that vital lesson.
Her eyes flutter wildly, glints of brown against a cloud-infested sky above. She doubts there will be much of a difference between chakra or no chakra if she keeps on losing blood like this. The kunai was still there, only minimally blocking the flow. She forces her eyes to stay open, sweat mingling with rain at her temples and sliding down to get lost in matter, dark hair. What kind of vantage point does she have? There's the sky, nearby trees, a field. The body of the shinobi she killed lies not seven feet away. Lee is fighting somewhere; she can hear his grunts and angry calls. And Neji…
Her lungs paralyze themselves. Her blood goes icy even as it runs out of her. Neji! The fact that she is unable to call frightens her, and she feels her leg involuntarily jerk.
But, as though in response, she hears a soft, even voice that, despite its intention, is a comfort to her: "Byakugan."
The mission. What had been the mission? Her mind scrambles, and she recalls words like reconnaissance, strategy, and Akatsuki, all spoken in the Godaime's voice. But they are a jumble, and she remains clueless. The Cloud. The Cloud was…
"Did you presume we would be so helpless against you?" The oily tone belongs to the kunai-happy Cloud-nin had sacrificed his own teammate. She can feel dirt beneath her fingernails as she claws at the grass. "Surely you know, we have bested the clan of Hyuuga in the past."
"Not you." The Konoha genius's voice does not waver even with the immensity of the power that he possesses. He is angry; these are the nemeses of his entire family.
"But one of my house, who then died at the hands of survivors. He left the glory to me through his deed, you understand."
She can't see them. They are too close. When she attempts to move, to improve her position so that she can watch this potentially-historical exchange, a jolt like electricity orders her to stay still.
"How," she hears Neji inquire in a tone slowly thickening with venom, "does one find honor within hand-me-down glory?"
"It won't be hand-me-down for long. My name shall replace my predecessors before this night is through. I've already taken out your whore. It is clear that I'll need mere minutes to get you as well." The Cloud-nin laughs. There is a tension that enters the air… Neji's lividity.
The wind whips, a result from a man-made cyclone she recognizes as the beginning stage of the Kaiten. The strength of the jutsu is already overwhelming – Neji doesn't even have to move to create it anymore.
"She sold nothing." The Hyuuga's voice is no longer soft. "Never lied. Never to herself or anyone else. She was true, sincere, talented."
"Nothing like you, a spineless peasant who steals secrets, murders fathers, and kills kunoichi!"
She is little more than a stiffened body of shock in the dirt, cold and confused. He thinks…Neji really thinks she is dead!
Her voice won't work and her hands won't move, but it shouldn't seem like…Neji should be able to see her, with the Byakugan if nothing else. He should know she's alive!
Why can't he see her?
"H-hey," quivers the Cloud-nin. "You can't…do that move like that. That's the Kaiten. You have to spin!"
"You think you know all about us." He speaks over the rushing air with seemingly no effort. "You think of the Hyuugas as a whole. Hizashi, Hiashi, Hinata…they're all the same. Aren't they?"
And then she remembers, of all things, the time Neji told her of his family's only known weakness. The Byakugan, their greatest secret that his father Hizashi had long ago died guarding, has a blind spot. Instead of the believed three-hundred-sixty degree rotation of vision, it truly is three-hundred-fifty-five. Neji had told her because she had been asking him to stop treating her like he always had…like a girl, like someone who could not protect, but only need protecting.
"I'll watch your back," she had said. "I won't let you fall, Neji." The spot was the first thoracic vertabra…which she now realized, belatedly, must be directly facing her.
Her thoughts are once more cut off by her partner's speech. "You should have upgraded your research. We're individuals. We have our own talents. And I…" There is a groan from the Cloud-nin that pauses his words. "I am not my father. Or my uncle."
Now a scream. The death-bringing gale eases. In comparison, the thunder seems no louder than a whisper. And then his voice, just as quietly—
"I'm Neji. Who loved her because she was the only one who ever understood that."
Her eyes widen. The words seem almost lies coming from this person. Her breath huffs out, working her lungs free, and she doesn't even want to breathe so badly as to see him, to look at him and look in his eyes. Because she feels it now, that hand of Fate that he used to talk so much about.
They both have fallen; one in battle, one in love.
He instantly swivels, and the sensation of being watched by the Byakugan washes over her. Never has it been more welcome than at this moment.
"Tenten." He's next to her, kneeling down. Lee shouts to them in the distance as he checks her pulse, removing the kunai with determined hands. He treats the wounds with bandages and salve taken from the shredded remains of her pack. He does everything he needs to, but like always, he does nothing that he wants to. He does not speak. He does not look at her.
Tenten accepts the ministrations, the dedication. "Lee?" she manages to query.
"Fine. He signaled me. He intercepted the scrolls to the Akatsuki." His eyes, now void of active doujutsu, elude hers. But she knows he'll look if she wants him to.
So he looks. And his expression alters at what he finds there. And then maybe he's just relieve that she still lives, or perhaps her gaze sends out the right message, because he leans down.
The kiss is salty with her tears and bitter with his blood. Tenten knows that all of their kisses will somehow be this way…achieved with difficulty but all the more worthy because of it.
"You heard?" he murmurs against her forehead.
Her lips curve into a smile. "I saw." And she never even needed to look.
If there had to come a first time for them to fall, Tenten is glad that they are falling together.