Intrigue

By Tanya Lilac

Chapter Four

After Tenten's bath, Sadako went through the laborious task of drying the young woman's hair while sending a young girl to call for Hanako, the seamstress.

Like the Uchiha line, the Hyuuga family had many magic users from simple skeelies, who knew how to make charms, talismans and simple spells, to accredited mages who had the ability fly or create and manipulate fire.

Tenten felt her hair steam as Sadako ran the strange shell comb through her hair. It looked ordinary enough, but it was always warm to touch and dried the hair that ran through its teeth.

"Did you ever go to Konoha?" Tenten asked later, as Sadako began to dress her hair.

"Yes, a few times." Her cheeks were flushed as she braided a section of Tenten's hair. "The last time was for the spring festival."

"Who was it?" Tenten asked, with a smug smile on her face.

"Uchiha Sasuke. He was just so charming… and, well… nothing happened, we just-" Sadako trailed off as she fumbled for words.

"Sasuke?" Tenten echoed. "Wow. He's always been a complete pig. And of course nothing happened. Because he's just that kind of person," Tenten quipped sarcastically.

Sadako blushed profusely, but was saved from having to say anything when Hanako entered the room. Both young women stood abruptly, Sadako curtseying and Tenten bowing out of habit, feeling Hanako's white eyes on her form.

Her hair was the same deep brown that Neji's was, her eyes the same colour. Her face was angular and lined gently with fatigue. She was, Tenten figured, around thirty.

She noticed the teal stitching on the sleeve and remained mute as Sadako greeted the older woman with respect.

"Good evening, Hanako," Sadako curtsied once again.

"Sadako … I see they've finally put your sharp tongue to use." Hanako replied, and all of the fine lines on her face were erased by the warmth that radiated from her smile. Tenten couldn't help but smile with them.

"And you're Tenten, I presume?"

"Yes," Tenten, at a loss for the right words, bowed once again as Sadako walked in a circle around her, taking in her form.

"Good posture, toned muscles… Do you normally wear bindings over your chest?" She asked with another good humoured smile.

"Have you ever tried firing a bow nocked with three arrows, all expected to meet their target?"

"Fighting's not my field, girl, and questions like that get you nowhere around here." She shook her head. "It seems they thought it appropriate to put you two hot heads together. It'll only be a matter of time before you two tear down the castle." Hanako clapped her hands and a servant appeared with her kit. Removing a tape measure from the well worn leather bag, she asked Sadako to sit down and be her scribe.

"Do you have any favourite colours?" The motherly woman asked in between measurements.

Tenten lifted her arm, as prompted. "No, not particularly. I like blue, and green."

Sadako wrote down another few notes.

"Well, your first gown will be green, and the second will be pink. The third could be blue, but I'm leaning more towards… a violet, or a red."

"Pink?" Tenten said the word with distaste.

"Yes, child." Hanako handed her a pale green dress. "Change into this and we can make some alterations before you go have dinner."

Tenten sighed as she trudged behind the screen. Sadako was there in a blink, helping her tie up the back, and finding a matching pair of shoes.

She stepped out from behind the screen and Hanako gasped.

"Child… If Neji hasn't fallen for you yet…"

Tenten fidgeted uncomfortably as she blushed.

"The neckline's too low."

"It's all the fashion, dear." She shrugged. "There's nothing much I can do for it now."

Sadako handed her a necklace. The glass pendant glinted softly in the light, and she turned it over in her fingers.

"Do you mean, what you said about Neji?" She asked quietly, as Hanako rolled up her tape again.

"He might not look like it, but the boy is lonely. He'll have lovers, but he needs someone to stop him from sinking further into the darkness. There's only so much skin to skin contact can do for you. Everything else… relies on the heart."

The candlelight flickered, casting eerie shadows over their skin. The moment passed, and a smile broke on the older woman's face.

"Ahh, well, I'm sure you have better things to do than listen to me prattle on about life and love. I'll have your dresses ready for you within a week, and your ball gown will be ready in a few days." She smiled, and Tenten and Sadako bowed and curtseyed as the seamstress left the room.

"Did she say… ball gown?"

Sadako nodded. "We have a winter ball every year, two weeks after the snowstorms that make the lake freeze over. During the day, everyone goes ice skating on the lake and at night, we have a ball for everyone over the age of fourteen." She smiled dreamily. "And I remember … Hiro, at my first ball."

"A cousin of yours?" Tenten asked. It was not uncommon for clan members to marry cousins, she knew.

"Well, he's a fifth cousin, twice removed. Or something close to that. It keeps the blood strong, although the Hyuuga blood is usually the more predominant in most cases when a Hyuuga marries someone from another family. The white eyes of the Hyuuga clan are our most distinctive mark of all." Tenten heard the pained note in the older girl's voice. "It was hard, at first, but they all realised that I was faster and stronger than they could ever be. The only one who could beat me at the age of ten was Neji." She smiled. "He was only nine… and I still have a scar."

She showed Tenten the smooth scar on her upper left arm.

"What kind of weapon leaves such a smooth, fluid scar?" Tenten frowned.

"Hands. We have a clan technique that requires the manipulation of energy force; you channel it through your hands and even if there is no physical contact, the wounds are on your internal organs. I was lucky, because he had been clumsy at first and had broken skin, so that I knew that my muscle had been cut. I gather that it's not the case these days."

"He never showed me." Tenten replied in a small voice. "So everyone in your family has magic?"

"Sort of. It's an innate energy that is inside everyone, but some can make use of it, while others cannot. And then you get people who can channel the energy into other forms, like magic. People like Hanako feel that life is simpler without magic and fighting, so they choose to acknowledge the fact that it's there, but they don't do anything with it. However, we are all trained from birth how to use one basic attack that could save our lives. And that's the attack that Neji used on me. It's crude and most people only master it in their teens, but never use it again after they've learned it." Sadako shrugged. "It's a way of life, and no one can do anything about it."

She handed Tenten a plaited silk belt. It was made of emerald green and silver ribbon.

"Anyway, wear this around your waist. It'll give the dress more colours. When I find you a more suiting pendant, you can wear it with your belts, but you can just pin it with this brooch."

"It's a sparrow," she said, trying to hide the surprise in her voice. It was an engraved silver brooch, with the tips of the sparrow's wings coated in a light, royal blue, enamel and a blue stone set in its eye.

Before she could say much else, a deep sounding gong was rung somewhere within the heart of the castle.

"What's that?" Tenten asked Sadako.

"It's time for dinner."

Tenten made to walk out of the room, but Sadako held her back.

"Where are you going?"

"To… dinner?"

"Do you know where you'll be eating?"

Tenten blushed. "No," she mumbled.

"Just wait for someone to escort you."

"You're not coming?" Tenten's voice sounded slightly alarmed.

"No," Sadako smiled. "I am not made for high society and pomp; they're having a feast for you and Neji, so you'll have to eat with the Head Family tonight. As for tomorrow, I have no idea. They'll probably stick you with Neji."

Tenten rolled her eyes.

"I take it from that, that you don't like him as much as everyone thinks." Sadako commented as she watched Tenten pace.

"No," Tenten replied. "I don't care for him to much; and neither does he. He was going to kill me for cutting his hair. I just got this hand shaped… mark."

Tenten rolled up her sleeve and her eyes widened as she saw the dark bruise on her forearm. Sadako made an exclamation of distress and she ran into the bathroom to find an ointment.

"Why didn't you show me before?"

"Well, I didn't think that it'd be this bad!" Tenten squinted at the purple mark. "Don't worry about it, the sleeve covers it up." She wrenched the fabric over her skin and there was a knock on the door. Sadako glared at her new mistress as she admitted Tenten's escort.

"Hyuuga Neji," she announced, "is here to escort you to dine."

The young Hyuuga smirked at his relative before walking around the screen into Tenten's waiting room. She was already standing there, in a pale green dress that reminded him of dewy grass. The sleeves were slightly flared, covering her hands and edged in a fine white lace. The fabric clung appreciatively to her form, drawing Neji's eyes to the curves of her body, while the low neckline left only a little bit more to the imagination. Embarrassed, Neji focused on the belt that she wore, pinned with a sparrow, and he smirked inwardly at the irony. Her hair, washed and dried, was partially braided, with the bottom half of her long, glossy locks left to drape down her back. Finally, Neji studied her face. Her skin was smooth and unblemished, her features pleasing and yet unremarkable. Tenten's lips were rounded and almost sensual in its colour, her cheekbones high and dusted lightly with pink. Finally, Neji met her eyes, accentuated by her sooty lashes. They were alive with bemusement and laughter, chocolate brown in colour, with rich chestnut flecks. However, Neji read below the surface and saw the traces of sorrow buried within her, and withdrew immediately, humiliated.

"I think you've had more than ample time to analyse my features," Tenten's voice, although quiet, startled him out of his reverie.

Neji bowed, and Tenten curtseyed with grace.

"How awkward," Sadako muttered as she walked to the door. "You're adults, so act like it. I think they've already started to take away the plates now." She opened the door, and the chastised and embarrassed pair walked out of the room.

"She scares me sometimes," Tenten remarked, "with her motherliness."

"I had to live with her." Neji retorted, and they shared a glance much like their small joke.

"So how long is there until dinner is served?" Tenten asked.

"Usually half an hour after the first gong is rung." They ducked behind a tapestry and came out on the other side of a short corridor, into the more luxurious part of the castle.

"You look very… clean," Neji said awkwardly as he fumbled for words.

"Why, thank you." Tenten replied. "You may have shaved but you're still as much of a prick as before."

"Listen, the thing is-" Neji was interrupted by the loud, flirtatious laugh of a woman.

Tenten winced and an infinitely graceful figure glided up to Neji's side and placed a smooth, slender hand on his shoulder.

"Neji … It's been far too long, don't you think?" Her voice was melodic and sweet. Tenten curtseyed at the new arrival, keeping her eyes downcast. She didn't want to see this person.

Neji cleared his throat. "Hanako, this is my guest, Tenten. Tenten, this is Hanako."

Tenten stiffened, still keeping her eyes on the floor.

"How cute," Hanako drawled. "Look up, dearling- how else will I see your face?"

Unwillingly, Tenten met the almond shaped, silver eyes of Hyuuga Hanako. Her skin was as pale and unblemished as her hands, but makeup had been lightly and skilfully applied to her eyes, cheekbones and mouth. Her hair was long and lustrous, flowing past her hip like a river of indigo silk. Everything about her was perfect; she was tall and graceful, still managing to be only slightly shorter than Neji, and the movements she made reminded Tenten of the supple and elegant willows of Konoha.

"Hanako," Neji filled in the silence, "you are looking much more … feminine than the tomboy I left behind." Tenten saw his eyes take in Hanako's willowy form and blanched, willing herself to become completely invisible.

"My, my, Neji. You haven't changed a bit." She paused before adding, "And I don't know if it's such a bad thing after all."

She curtseyed deeply, allowing him a glance down her scandalously low neckline, and smiled once again.

"I hope you have a good evening, Neji, Tenten." With those words, she was off, seemingly gliding away in her rose pink dress.

Tenten released the breath she'd been holding and looked at Neji expectantly.

"What?" He asked, in response to her glare.

"What was that?" Tenten retorted. "At least wait until I'm not here so you can flirt with her all you like!"

"Me? Flirt?" Neji rolled his eyes. "You've got to be joking."

"'You're looking much more feminine than the tomboy I left behind'." Tenten mocked in a deep voice. "I think it took you a full two minutes to get over that neckline of hers."

"Why do you care so much, anyway?" Neji asked her, smugly. "Are you jealous?"

"Don't flatter yourself, Hyuuga." Tenten snapped back.

She ignored him for the rest of their walk, no matter how much he tried to cajole her into good spirits.

"Oh, and just a note about dining tonight; follow my lead." He hesitated before adding, "And keep quiet, won't you? There are many things at stake here."

"Thanks for telling me earlier." Tenten muttered.

He turned to her and smirked once again. "I won't say that I didn't try."

With a groan, the young woman walked alongside the Hyuuga into the dining hall.

It was more like an endless, elaborately furnished cavern with scarlet velvet upholstered dining chairs, with golden tassels and silver silk tablecloths. Cream tallow candles burned brightly in their brass candelabras.

"So, tell me… what is at stake?" Tenten whispered.

"Apart from my sanity, your standing within the clan while you're here is at stake. If you act like a heathen, well-"

"I am not a heathen," Tenten hissed, "And I'm furious to hear that you'd think such a thing!" If only she had her knives on her now… Neji would lose a lot more than his hair.

"This is going to be a long night," Neji groaned.

"Neji!"

It was another feminine voice, and Tenten suppressed a moan.

"It really is you!" The voice was closer now, warm with affection.

"Hitomi, it is good to see you again." Neji looked at Tenten, and turned to face the newcomer. "Tenten, this is Hitomi."

Tenten looked at Hitomi with some trepidation. To her surprise, Hitomi's hair was as silvery white as her eyes. Her skin was equally as fair as Neji's and Hanako's, but she seemed to exude a quite grace and warmth that the former pair lacked. Also, she smiled. Anyone in this family who did so, so openly, was a welcome sight amongst such sombre people.

Hitomi curtseyed deeply. Her neckline, Tenten noticed, was not as deep as Hanako's. With an inward grimace, Tenten curtseyed back.

"I've been looking for you two all afternoon!" Hitomi smiled, and Tenten concealed her surprise. For Hitomi to be looking for her, of all people… but to Neji's family, Tenten was merely a novelty. Their curiosity in her would fade before long. "It's been such a long time, cousin!" She hugged Neji with affection. "I suppose I shall not be permitted to sit with you during our meal, but I would love to talk with you both afterwards."

At that moment, Tenten's body decided to release the coughing fit apparently she'd been holding in.

"Where are my manners?" Hitomi exclaimed. "Forgive me, Tenten. I had given no thought to your rest." She placed a hand on Tenten's shoulder and smiled once again. "Tomorrow, then." She curtseyed again and left the pair alone.

Dinner was served shortly after, and Tenten was seated on the far left of the table amidst people she did not know, while Neji sat with Hinata and Hanabi near Hiashi. It did not help that Hitomi was sitting on the far right of the table.

"I don't suppose you could pass the salt?" Tenten looked to her right. A young man, with the same white eyes that Neji possessed, smiled politely at her. His hair was a shocking tangle of chestnut curls that just brushed the nape of his neck.

Tenten reached over and passed the salt shaker to the youth, who was working on what appeared to be an artistic masterpiece. It was a miniature, crude sculpture of the castle. Tenten giggled. The Hyuuga's creation was made of bread, buttered lightly in some spots to resemble the creamy stone in the sunset. He was adding salt to the tiny turrets and spires.

"It's snow," she realised with a smile.

"Right you are," the youth smiled back. "Hyuuga Hiroshi, at your service." He held out a hand for her to shake.

"Sorry to ruin your culinary masterpiece, but I do believe that your mother told you not to play with your food." The sarcastic interjection came from a smug individual who sat on Tenten's right. As she watched, the bread replica of the castle shrivelled and collapsed unto itself.

Tenten looked up sharply, bestowing the egotistical man with a baleful glare. He was strikingly good looking with the same, long impossibly black hair as Neji and white eyes that shone coldly.

"I do believe your mother's lessons on manners went to waste," she hissed icily.

The youth remained silent, but his eyes roamed over her body, lingering finally on the curve of her neckline.

"I never did care too much for my mother," he replied absently. Tenten stiffened, and slowly reached for the knife that sat on the table. "But I do appreciate what your mother gave you. You must be an incredible … asset to the knights of Konoha."

Tenten grit her teeth and her grip on the cool silver tightened. She would not let this chauvinistic bastard get to her.

"Once you've left Neji's bed," he sneered down her dress as his other hand squeezed her knee, "come join me in mine. I'll show you the difference between a boy…" His gaze fell contemptuously on Neji. "…and a man."

Unable to restrain her temper any longer, Tenten's right hand slammed against the Hyuuga's throat, winding him. She sprung lightly off her high-backed chair in the same, swift motion and the pair crashed to the floor.

Neji was scared to look up when he heard the loud crash, fearing that it would be the feisty knight who had rescued him. Unfortunately for him, it was. Tenten's right hand gripped the Hyuuga's neck, while a glint of light in her left hand revealed that she was holding a dinner knife in her left hand. Her chocolate coloured tresses spilled over her shoulders, but nothing could hide her angry words.

"Touch me, or speak to me like that again, and I swear, I will not hesitate to take away that which is most precious to you." Her teeth were bared in a feline fashion and her eyes held a fiery rage as she threw the knife violently into the chair. The Hyuuga was struck mute as he looked down at the knife firmly wedged to the chair, between his legs.

Neji watched the events unfold speechlessly. The entire table had fallen silent.

"Go help her!" Hanabi hissed.

"She looks like she is doing fine on her own," Neji said, in a strangled voice.

"Not against Hiro, she won't!"

Many women had entered the bedchamber of Hyuuga Hiro- both willingly and unwillingly. With a growing reputation as a sadist, few were the number of women who had left his bedchamber mentally and physically sound. A master of poisoned energy attacks, a mere touch from his hand could kill you. Cruel by nature, however, Hiro liked to play around with his prey before showing any form of mercy.

Neji watched as the young woman stiffened. Her eyes hardened, like icy gemstones, and the colour began to rise in her cheeks.

"Neji!" Hanabi hissed again, shoving him roughly. Then, suddenly, his feet were moving of their own accord. Tenten had stood, Hiro was smirking, and his fingers were reaching for her ankle.

Tenten felt his skin graze hers, and suddenly, her knee gave way. She fell forward, only to be caught by a furiously blushing Hiroshi.

"Miss Tenten," he murmured. "Are you okay?"

"I'll be fine." She replied loudly.

"Let me help you." Neji's offer of assistance came as a relief to Hiroshi. Neji, in a brusque manner, wrapped his arm around Tenten's waist, slinging her arm over his shoulder. "This way," he whispered in her ear, as Hanabi caused a loud disturbance. Neji led her through a secret passage behind a tapestry, and they sat down heavily on a bench. Sadako was already waiting for them.

"Are you alright?" Sadako asked, already kneeling.

"I just feel a bit dizzy, is all. What is all this fuss about?"

"Hiro touched you," Neji replied, his voice taut.

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"It has everything to do with your life!" Neji snapped. Sadako rolled her eyes and knelt, taking off Tenten's shoe.

"What Neji means to say, without sounding like a jealous prat, is that Hiro can kill you with one touch. He can send poisonous energy into your body; and the effect is instantaneous. Let's hope that he likes you…" Sadako bit her lip. "We need to get you to somewhere better lit. And we need Hitomi!"

"I'll take her back to her room. You go get Hitomi."

"Fine," Sadako muttered. "Don't take your anger out on me. You're jealous that he was so forward."

Neji ignored her comment as Tenten tried to stand again. Her head was feeling alarmingly light, like she wasn't all there.

"So what are the symptoms of this poison?" Tenten asked, as Neji placed his hand on her waist again.

"Light-headedness, hallucinations, paralysis beginning a few minutes after first contact… although Hiro can be more subtle in his applications, I suppose," Neji muttered as they walked through another door and emerged on the other side of the corridors.

"Is there a cure?" Tenten asked sleepily.

"Yes," Neji's muscles tensed around her waist. She was losing focus and she'd obviously lost the feeling in her legs. "Hitomi can clear most of the poison, but the rest is up to you."

"Could I die?"

"Yes, you could. But there's no point to that, is there?" Neji opened her bedroom door with his free elbow.

"Why not?" Tenten asked, as he placed her on the bed.

"Because you didn't get your revenge."

Tenten laughed. "I scared him enough, though, didn't I?"

"Yes," Neji shook his head in wonder. "I suppose you did."

If you're wondering about Hitomi, I just love her character. Sorry to be singing my own song these days, but I find her character to be very flexible. I've edited chapter three slightly; Hitomi and Neji, in this fic, were also betrothed from birth, but the arrangement ended after the death of Neji's mother. I know it's not a canon fact, but it's just my assumption.