Author's Notes: Well, the water prison scene was animated, so I thought it might be interesting to go back and do some water torture - I mean, training. You might be interested to know that the world's record for the longest breath hold is 9 minutes and 58 seconds! I ranged Team Gai's times to leave room for improvement since I didn't want them to be too awesome just yet. Team Gai bonding, ahoy!
Disclaimer: Do not own, yadda, yadda, yadda.
They were at the pool, practicing drowning.
At least, that was what Tenten had (somewhat sarcastically) murmured it was while watching Lee sputter to the surface. She had been sitting on the side of the pool watching him, legs dangling in the water with Gai-sensei's stopwatch in hand. It was strange, watching Lee's distorted form remain underwater while the surface of the pool smoothed out. It was no surprise, however, that of all of them, Lee could hold his breath the longest. His skills depended on his physical prowess and he had trained himself to last. Still, there was only so long the brain could go without oxygen. All the ninjutsu in the world could not change that.
Which, if she admitted it to herself, was why she was uncomfortable with this training. In this, there was no way to cheat, no blood limit that might help, no chakra-enhanced ability that might save her. Under the water, her body was in control and all of its reactions were instinctive. The natural need to breathe was incredibly strong and there was a point where it would inhale anything, water included, to save itself.
She clicked the stopwatch. "9 minutes and 14 seconds."
Lee clenched a fist in victory, making waves in the pool. Standing next to her, Neji crossed his arms over bare chest. She glanced up at him, thinking he had been about to speak, but found his face impassive, unreadable. She could not tell if he was pleased or irritated by Lee's time - pleased that Lee's hold had been possibly shorter than Neji's, or irritated because Neji didn't think he could beat it.
And of course everything is a competition, she thought, a little irritated herself.
"Your turn, Neji!" Lee called jovially as he swam to the edge of the pool near Tenten. He was breathing in deep, controlled breaths but he looked alright. She kept half an eye on him, however, as Neji slipped into the water with barely a splash. He'd tied his long hair back in a ponytail to keep it out of his way, though somehow a few stray locks around his face had managed to escape. If not for the swimming trunks he was wearing, he would have looked very regal, ancient as one of the warriors of old. As it was, Tenten thought he just looked young and not at all a ninja, and wondered if that went for her as well.
She cleared the timer and watched as Neji swam out a bit to give himself room. He treaded water for a moment and then nodded at her, signaling that he was ready. In the next instant, he sank beneath the surface and she felt her stomach drop with him even as she clicked the stopwatch and numbers raced before her.
She understood the necesscity of the exercise, she really did. It was always important to know your limits so that, when the right moment came, you could surpass them. The knowing didn't make it easier though. Under the water, she would be alone with only her heartbeat and a body that would ultimately betray her. She was very certain that she would not be able to match her teammates' breath holds, and not because she was a girl or that she wasn't a good swimmer. She just didn't like being under the water, wondering how long it would take for her air to run out.
She didn't like being at the mercy of her own body.
When Neji surfaced, she clicked the watch instantly, hearing him take a deep breath into his oxygen-starved lungs. "8 minutes and 48 seconds," she read steadily, and was mildy surprised when Neji did not look disappointed but simply swam towards her. Lee cheered him when he neared, telling him that of course they would keep going until they all had a good ten minutes to their names. Neji, however, didn't appear to be listening to him.
"It's your turn," he said, and his white eyes watched her with an intensity that made her a bit anxious. She managed a calm nod, though, and threw Lee the timer as she let herself sink into the pool. Goosebumps rose on her skin despite the warm water and she gave herself a stern mental slap. She was not some third-rate kunoichi to be intimidated by a little breathing exercise.
Taking a slow breath, she swam out a few feet, trying to blank out her mind for the coming task. She watched as her hands and feet moved beneath the water, watched the ends of her long braids fan out over the surface. All she had to do was hold her breath. That was all. And so what if she couldn't hold it as long as Lee or Neji? She was not them. She was Tenten and everyone had their limits.
She glanced over at Lee. "I'm ready." She started to inhale.
It was Neji's voice, cutting over the water like a musical chord, strong and sharp. She blinked at him and her breath left her in a rush as he started swimming out to her.
"What's the matter?" she asked, confused and feeling a little cheated. Didn't he think she could do this?
"Nothing's the matter," he answered, and then waved a hand at Lee. "Lee!" Their other teammate looked surprised for a moment before pushing away from the side to come join them. Tenten looked at Neji incredulously.
He cut her off. "I thought we'd go together. We are a team, as those two idiots keep reminding me." There was no doubt as to which two idiots he was speaking of, but Tenten was too upset to feel amused.
"Neji, I can-" Again, he didn't let her finish.
"Of course you can." His moon-white eyes glinted at her. His tone was serious. "But none of us are alone." His gaze moved on, out over the water, away from her. "Not anymore."
And then Lee took her hand, grinning like the complete maniac he was and she couldn't be angry at either of them. They were hers, after all, as Neji had said, and she was theirs. Even if they did test her patience at times.
With a little smile, she reached out and took Neji's hand in her free one, feeling his fingers curve around hers, giving her strength. Her smile grew.
"Alright then. Together."
They dropped as one and, for the first time, it felt like an embrace.