Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto nor do I make any kind of profit from writing this (somewhat shameful) fanfiction.
Well, this is my attempt at a purely non-romantic-contact romance. No accidental falling into awkward positions, either. Oh, and I think I started working on this last year. Don't get your hopes up about regular updates… but I'll try my best!
Also, a few weeks ago, crimsonriot at LJ drew a picture that she now states was "destined to be drawn." It's not quite identical, but it didn't stop me from screaming at the coincidence.
Tenten was dreaming of strange omens- hawks in cages and sparrows set free, snakes scheming in the dark alleyways of a dungeon and the incessant ticking of a clock.
Frustrated, she kicked back her sheets and woke abruptly, the dreams still clinging to the dim light around her like dew clings valiantly to grass beneath a rising sun. She opened the windows, letting in the chilly winter air to help her clear her senses. To her surprise, a small sparrow hopped into her room. A chill of premonition wrapped itself around her skin as it hopped about on her table, and it was then that she noticed a scrap of fabric tied to the bird's leg with a single word on it. Help.
Tenten, as a knight of Konoha, knew her duty. She quickly fixed her hair in its usual buns and pulled on some dark breeches over her doeskin leggings and tugged on a linen shirt over her cotton chemise. With a heavy sigh, she slipped into her sleeved, hooded cape while jamming her cold feet into some boots. It was a cold walk through the courtyard and corridors to the main hall in the middle of winter. The young woman shut the window and left a plate of breadcrumbs and some water on her desk with parchment tucked neatly on the side for the tiny bird.
The past few years had been filled with menial tasks and troubling whispers of secret schemes, and all knights had been assigned missions that the kingdoms had been too lazy to see to themselves. Konoha's knights, along with its carpenters, blacksmiths and builders, had rebuilt the kingdom after the attack launched by the Sound with the steadfast help of the Suna; an age-old barrier had dissolved and a strong bond had been forged between the kingdoms.
Tenten pulled her cloak tighter around her body and she slipped out of her room. The corridors were dark and empty but she didn't care; she knew the entire castle like the back of her hand. Her boots were silent against the old rugs and she crept quietly, not willing to wake others up.
Tenten knocked on the solid oak door, identical to her own and the others around it. A youth, one summer younger than her, opened the door, his dark hair tousled from sleep.
"Is it urgent, Tenten?" Sasuke asked sleepily.
"I don't make social calls, Uchiha."
Sasuke, wearing only a pair of short, loose breeches pushed the door back, allowing Tenten inside.
"So how come you're only wearing shorts?" she asked enviously, shedding her outermost layer of clothing.
Sasuke pointed to the wall and the spell was revealed; symbols for heat and warmth in winter and coolness in summer had been painted onto the stone.
"Right." Tenten fumbled around in her pockets, blushing slightly at her momentary lapse in concentration. "A sparrow brought this to my room this morning."
"A sparrow?" Sasuke echoed, looking at the fabric. It was good quality cotton, beaten and starched to a smooth, snowy white weave.
"I know," Tenten said, "they're not really messenger birds. And it's a part of my insignia; why my window out of everyone else's? I can't help but think it's a sign."
Sasuke threw it on his desk as he pulled on a cotton smock.
"I'll try and take a look."
"When?" Tenten demanded indignantly.
"Later." Sasuke waved her away.
"Oh come on, Sasuke! What if someone's in danger?"
The young knight put her hand on Sasuke's shoulder and turned him to face her. He met her eyes lazily.
"What's it to me?"
Tenten's eye twitched and she thought, for a split second, of shaking him hard enough to get whiplash. She'd done it once- she could do it again.
"Well… just take a look, please!"
"Only at a price."
"Within reason," Tenten snapped, her eyes narrowing dangerously.
"I want you to fletch me a new quiver of arrows."
"In the courtyard, in your undergarments."
"No way. What part of 'within reason' don't you understand?"
Tenten pushed him away, disgusted.
"Well, no deal, then."
"You bigoted rat! Who made you a knight?"
Tenten rolled her eyes. It made some kind of sense; Iruka was too kind hearted sometimes. However, he had his moral values and could handle children a lot better than a lot of the adults that she knew; he was a valuable asset although sometimes a bit too lenient.
"I'll get you the arrows, and that's it."
"Fine," Sasuke snapped huffily.
He put the fabric on a mirror, sprinkling several powders on it.
A translucent orb formed in midair above the mirror and Tenten could only catch glimpses of what he saw.
"Three days ride… east of Konoha, in the middle of the forest, lives a maiden of inexpressible beauty with hair the colour of the darkest of nights, and eyes the colour of the whitest snow, kept against her will in a tower without doors or stairs. She is the key- you must call to her and she will lower her silken braid for you to climb."
"I'd rather not," Tenten said, wincing.
"But you must kill the witch who put her there if you are to free her. The witch can only be killed with an arrow to the heart, but she has powers at her command too terrifying to imagine."
"Great," Tenten muttered.
The orb broke and Sasuke blinked. He sprinkled another powder over the others, and they all vanished.
"That's a nifty trick," Tenten said dryly.
"Here," Sasuke handed her a vial of black liquid that hung on a long silvery chain. "This potion makes the arrows fly true to every target-"
"I don't need it." Tenten said, annoyed.
"And, once loosed, become invisible, with the added trait of indestructibility- and it'll also pierce absolutely anything you'd care to fire it at." Sasuke finished.
"Oh, well, that's nice of you." Tenten smiled and took the vial on the chain. "Thanks, Sasuke."
"Yeah, whatever," he said gruffly.
Tsunade, the ruler and strongest warrior of Konoha, sat at her desk, trying to ignore the painful headache that was hammering away at her brain.
There was a brief knock on the door. Tsunade knew it was Tenten before she set foot in the office.
"How can I help you, Tenten?" The Hokage spoke quietly.
Tenten bowed respectfully and handed her the scrap of fabric.
"It was tied to a sparrow, half frozen outside my window."
"A sparrow?" Tsunade echoed.
"Did you take it to Sasuke?" The Hokage turned the fabric over in her fingers.
"I did," Tenten admitted.
"What did he tell you?"
"Something about a woman trapped in a tower with dark hair and white eyes."
"White eyes," Tsunade muttered, looking out of the glass windows. "A Hyuuga princess," she said suddenly, "trapped in a tower."
Tenten knew very little of the Hyuuga clan. They were a noble family (everyone knew that), much like the Uchiha despite the vast difference in size. They were known for their abilities of insight and distinctive fighting style that Tenten had yet to see in a combat situation. As far as comparisons in size went, the Uchiha had only two in their clan (and there were whispers of a third) and enough in the Hyuuga clan that they felt the need to divide it into two- a Head-Branch system of the younger protecting their elders.
"It seems to be a family affair; they have sent no word that they require help. Besides, their family is full of famously strong warriors and knights." Tsunade tossed the fabric back onto her desk near Tenten's fingers.
"She obviously doesn't want to be there!" The young woman snatched up the square of material and put it in her pocket.
"It is of no importance to us."
"They are not above the law, Tsunade-sama!" Tenten argued. "And you seem to think otherwise! How can you support this-"
"How do you know this isn't a trick?"
"How do you know that it isn't?"
"It is a family affair- even I have no right to interfere."
"I don't care!" Tenten's words fell into silence. She shut her eyes and calmed her breath and heartbeat. "Someone's life is at stake." She continued solemnly, "And I took a vow to aid those who needed it."
Tenten turned around to face the doors of the study.
"If you leave, you will be demoted."
Tsunade's voice was lazy- nonchalant, almost- like she knew exactly how Tenten would react and respond. But the young woman would face her own path, now.
Tenten turned to face the woman she had, for so long, respected. Now, her eyes blazed with an unreadable emotion, her body rigid.
"So be it," she replied stiffly. She bowed only briefly, spun on her heel and left.
Tenten, no longer a knight, ran silently back to her room, a plan already in her mind. She shut the door just as soundlessly as she had opened it and stowed away her very few personal knick-knacks in a bag, along with spare clothes. Removing her shirt, she quickly donned her thin, blue bladed knives in their leather holsters, the straps looping over her shoulders. Tugging her shirt back on, Tenten strapped on a much larger, second pair of blades on her back with an additional two swords that hung about her slim hips. Slipping into her cloak once again, she slung her quiver and willow bow over her shoulder and left the room, leaving the key on her desk.
It was just the kind of adventure that she had dreamed about, she tried to tell herself as she ran to the stable. Halfway there, she almost crashed into Lee; a fellow knight who had been a steadfast companion since they had first met. He was exuberant about everything and looked almost identical to his idol and mentor- the combat trainer, Gai.
"Tenten!" He greeted her. "Where are you going, so heavily armed?"
"Mission," she flashed him a smile.
"When will you be home?"
"Hopefully before winter truly sets in… well, I'd better get going. Say goodbye to Gai-sensei for me, please?"
Lee put his thumb up and smiled at her. "Of course! Good luck, Tenten! The flaming power of your youth will prevail!"
Tenten felt slightly guilty for lying to Lee. He'd only try and detain her if she told him the truth, she reasoned. She had a princess to rescue.
Once in the stables, Tenten whistled and there was an answering whicker from a stall three doors down on her right. She smiled.
"Hey, Starshadow." She rubbed the stark white star on the coal black filly's head. "We have to go rescue a princess… do you like that idea?" she crooned as she saddled the horse. The saddlebags were already full- the squires were entrusted to make sure that there were always fresh supplies in the saddlebags to ensure that less time would be wasted responding to emergencies.
Once she was outside, Tenten mounted the horse smoothly and pulled her hood closer to her face. As she kicked Starshadow into a gallop, the snow whirled out from behind her and her cloak streamed out behind her before settling like a mantle upon her shoulders.
Tsunade watched from her window as the hooded figure left the castle. With a weary sigh, she drew the drapes shut and turned to her assistant.
"Send a message to him. Tell him that one of his kindred will be returned to him shortly."
"Tell him… that the female companion is no longer a knight of Konoha- and any fraudulence will result in her immediate arrest and whatever corporal punishment he views as appropriate."
For the next three nights, Tenten slept on the freezing ground for very scant amounts of time. On her third day of traveling, Tenten quickly dipped her arrows in the potion and slipped the potion back around her neck and did a quick check of her blades to ensure that they wouldn't freeze.
Starshadow, as if sensing Tenten's tension, whickered nervously beneath her and the young woman automatically changed her posture, and the filly settled down.
In all honesty, nothing could really ever prepare her for what awaited her in the tower that she was rapidly approaching.
It was just after dawn. The snow had finally relented and the wind was calm. It was eerily quiet, like the world now held its breath for her.
She dismounted Starshadow smoothly, and sent the horse into the woods to hide out until she'd defeated the witch. Tenten bent back her bow and loosed the arrow with a deadly precision. Although she could not see the arrow itself, the sturdy cord she'd tied to it indicated that the arrow had pierced the mortar in the stone, right above the small window.
The young woman smiled with satisfaction and tugged on the rope, testing its strength and that of the arrow. Sasuke's word held true, and the arrow would not budge.
Not waiting a moment more, Tenten began to climb up the tower wall, walking with the wall beneath her feet. The tower was about five stories tall and the knight could see over the trees of the forest as she climbed, but knew that she couldn't stop to admire the panoramic scenery.
Her arms were burning, her breath came in slight pants and the sweat chilled upon her brow as she pulled herself onto the ledge of the window and hoisted herself into the small chamber.
It was a completely round room- that was to be expected- with only a bed on one side and a collection of books on a shelf. The entire room looked more like it belonged to a soldier- it even resembled her old room- rather than a princess.
At that moment, her musings were cut short as the princess emerged from the bathroom, clothed in men's breeches and a traveling cloak. Tenten hastily bowed and the other occupant of the room looked up and the hood fell back.
"Took you long enough," the Hyuuga grumbled.
White eyes- check.
Black hair- check.
Beauteous maiden beyond description?
Boy, had Sasuke got it wrong this time. Completely wrong.
"You're not the princess." Tenten said numbly.
"Like they'd ever lock their precious princess away in a tower," the youth scoffed.
The young woman straightened and her hood no longer hid her face.
"And you're not a knight!" The young man cried in anger. "They sent me a farm girl with a bad hairstyle!"
"I am a knight!" Tenten yelled back. "If you're too stupid to realize that, then I'll just leave and go home and leave you in your stupid fifty meters high tower! Good day to you, sir!" she spat and turned on her heel. She was about to leave when she saw an old lady approach the window. The young man shoved her out of the way and looked down.
"Who is it?" she asked quietly, suddenly sensing the tension in his body.
"She came earlier today. There's something wrong." The man glanced at his rescuer-to-be sharply. "She followed you!"
"I know for a fact that I was not followed here!" Tenten argued, unsheathing a blade at her waist and handing it to the man grudgingly. "Do you know how to use this?"
"Of course," he replied smugly. "I was trained from birth how to-"
"Save me the history lesson, Hyuuga!" Tenten snapped, pulling out two arrows.
"That's not going to work on her," the noble hissed. "She has magic!"
"That doesn't matter."
They heard a knock and the Hyuuga began to lower his incredibly long braid down the window. Tenten restrained a giggle at the bizarre image, and remembered Sasuke saying something about climbing a "silken braid." As the man hoisted up the witch, Tenten made a quick calculation as she decided how to proceed. The young man gave her a look as if to say, "You'd better have a plan."
The face of the witch appeared above the window ledge and Tenten, her fingers moving only with muscle memory, fired the arrows with deadly precision. The arrows disappeared and did not even whistle as they flew through the air. Blood blossomed above the witch's heart and her face was surprised- sad, even, as she fell.
Suddenly, the Hyuuga bucked forward as the witch fell, and Tenten sprung forward, a naked blade in hand. In a moment of stilled time, the blade sang with a surprisingly high clarity as it sliced through the air and then through the thick black braid. The young man fell back across the room and the braid slithered out the window and vanished, with the witch.
"What have you done!?!?" The young man flew at Tenten in a rage, and the young woman flinched as he grabbed her shoulders, staring directly into her eyes. His hair was jagged and wavy and settled upon his shoulders, finally free of its life long restraint.
"I rescued you." Tenten slapped his hands away dismissively.
The man grabbed at her again, and Tenten struck him- but he was prepared this time, blocking her blow.
"You cut my hair."
"It will grow back." Tenten said, her eyes narrowing. "Now let go of me."
"You. Cut. My. Hair."
"Let. Go. Of. Me."
The two had an intense staring competition and, finally, he let go of her wrist. Tenten didn't need to look to see the red mark.
"Let's go." She turned to the window.
"But she's not dead," the young man said quietly. "She will hunt you to the ends of the earth."
"I will deal with it when I have to," she replied curtly, not looking at him. "Get your things together. We're leaving."
"Where to?" He asked with a light appearing suddenly in his eyes.
"I'm returning you home." Tenten said listlessly and jumped out the window, sliding down the cord with ease.
The young man landed on the ground after her, a few minutes later.
"Home? As in the Hyuuga Castle home?"
"Yes," Tenten replied, whistling for her horse.
"I'm not going with you."
He sounded like a sullen child.
"You are." Tenten said quietly, dangerously.
"I can leave you out here for that snowstorm to freeze you to death. Or, better still, you can wait for that witch to turn up again lock you back up."
"You don't understand! My family locked me up!"
"I don't suppose there's a reason as to why they locked you up?" Tenten asked sarcastically.
"They thought I was a threat to the family. A disgrace, despite the fact that I was the most talented warrior anyone had seen in three generations, surpassing even my uncle at my age!"
Tenten saw his fist clench and her mouth set in a grim line.
"I will not return home!" He spat venomously.
"Where else can I take you?" Tenten asked. "It has to be only a few days away- there's a snowstorm coming in a few days that will snow in all of the roads and we'll both be stuck out in the open unless you figure out somewhere you want to go!"
"Konoha!" The man turned to her. "We can go to the Hokage and ask him to lift this stupid system in my family!"
"Him?" Tenten asked, puzzled. Then, it hit her. "How long have you been locked up?"
"About six years- on the eve of my twelfth birthday."
"The Hokage you knew is dead." Tenten said quietly. "The new Hokage has been in power for five years. Her name is Tsunade-sa… Tsunade. She is the grand daughter of the First."
The clouds began to roll in from the east, bringing with it an icy wind.
"And she leads the kingdom?"
"Is she a wise ruler?"
"And yet you hesitate."
The young man turned to face her.
"Very well," he sighed, all traces of anger gone, to be replaced with a smirk. "I will return to my… home." He said the latter with distaste.
Tenten nodded and was about to mount Starshadow when the noble cleared his throat. She turned to look at him. He raised an eyebrow at her.
"Yes, sir?" Tenten asked sardonically.
"How will I travel if not astride a horse?"
"And how will I travel if I am not on my horse?"
"Walk." He said dismissively. "If my calculations are correct, I am more superior in rank in this situation, and I cannot be seen riding behind a woman who dresses and rides a man."
"You're not in the least grateful?" Tenten asked furiously.
"I would have escaped today, regardless of your hasty 'rescue', or not."
He strode over to the former knight and looked down at her.
"Step aside, please," he asked in a tone that suggested he would not ask her again.
Tenten averted her eyes and grudgingly stepped aside. For the first time in her life, she did not feel the cheesy glow of altruistic satisfaction after doing a good deed for someone else. For the first time in her life, she wanted to strangle the person she had just saved.
"Are you coming, miss?" He called back politely, which was anything but courteous.
Tenten rolled her eyes.
"Why did I even let that stupid sparrow in?" She asked herself quietly, before following the noble, on foot.
But it was only the beginning of the journey… and a challenging one, at that.
Ahh, well, it's finally up and running. Please leave any constructive criticism in a review, and I'll do my best to improve!