So I know you guys have been waiting for so long for this chapter, and I am so sorry for that. I hope it lives up to your expectations.
The process Leo was undergoing within the skull of Tenten was much more stressful then the world outside of it, however it was far less panicked and emotional.
Someone, - no one was sure, nobody was fessing up, - had alerted Hinata, and now the princess was knelt on the grass beside her cousin babbling at the prone figures, trying to coax the girl back into consciousness.
"What's happening!" She practically screamed at Shikamaru, the only one whose emotions hadn't been spiked to an unnatural level in some way by the events.
"I don't know, but that ANBU is trying to figure it out…" He managed to pry both the princess and the prince away, using the other people who gathered to his advantage in leading them away. "But we need to let him do his job." This was stated to Hinata, but Shikamaru's tone and gaze was pointed harshly at Neji. The Nara boy was surprised at how this was affecting his friend.
But he didn't understand, he couldn't. This was all too unfair for Neji. He'd almost lost her twice, she'd been almost killed before him in an alley, men had snuck onto the palace grounds to try and murder her, and now she was practically a drowning victim! But this was worse than those times combined, worse because Neji knew that this time he couldn't help her because whatever was keeping her from getting up wasn't something he could touch or change. It was in her, and it wasn't in his power to help that.
Leo had never felt more disgusted in his life. Or disgusting, for that matter. Covered in who knows what, he sat on the floor of Tenten's mind, surrounded by a pair of wriggling, slimy dragon infants. Both of which were dazed and kept stepping painfully on him as they tried to use their own feet.
They were long, more styled after the Chinese fashion then he would have expected. They must take after their father, he noted as Mei began to stir. He exhaled thankfully, prepared to escape from this ethereal form and return to his body.
"They're boys." He said cheerfully as the Dragon Queen raised her head. He frowned slightly "I think."
Mei chuckled at him and the babies scrambled towards that sound, instantly knowing her to be their mother. "They are…you did well human. You should know that." She began nuzzling the babies as they made strange gurgling noises, vying for her attention between the two of them.
Leo stood, and gave her a bow before turning and striding out of Tenten's brain and back into his own body once more.
"Be still my sons, for I have much to tell you and it must be quick." Mei stated once they were alone, and the twins stilled obediently at the order.
"Trouble is coming, a resolution to this little problem and you must be ready for it, because when it comes you will both be here alone."
Leo had no sooner refitted himself into his own body then Tenten's shot upright, gasping and choking for air. The ANBU stumbled back from her, nearly slipping off the slippery bank back into the moat as she coughed.
Neji wrenched himself away from the group and launched himself down at the grass beside Tenten, wrapping his hands round her upper arms and twisting her to face him. "Tenten, what happened? Are you all right?"
But she didn't answer him, just gave him a delirious stare before leaning forward, pressing her forehead into his shoulder. He stilled and listened to her wheeze as she sucked more air into her deprived lungs.
"I need to lie down now." She said, barely whispering. He gave an airy laugh of relief to hear her voice, and responded with a teasing tone;
"But you just got up." He felt her laughter rather then heard it. Standing up, he dragged her to her feet as he did, before wrapping one arm round her middle. Shikamaru appeared on her other side and assisted the prince as they led the girl up the bank.
"Leo." Hiashi said, standing atop the hill looking down, one hand on Hinata's shoulder. The princess was looking rather distraught. "I'll need to speak with you right away."
The masked ANBU member nodded and quickly departed the scene, as the other servants and passersby's disbanded from the area. It seemed everyone knew well enough to clear out before they were ordered too.
"We'll have to go see my sensei another time then huh?" She asked, her voice low with a hint of a pained laugh to it. Neji shot her a look.
"Hush up, don't over exert yourself."
She made a face, seeming to not notice Shikamaru on her other side, or Lee and Hinata trailing them as they crossed the threshold from the drawbridge back into the castle. "Don't you be ordering me about like that your Highness, I won, Remember?" She grinned and looked ahead, her head lolling a bit as she felt tired.
"Yeah." Neji answered. "I remember." She smiled contentedly, not looking back at him. The rest of the walk was silent.
The events that followed worked out in both Neji and Tenten's favor, and didn't at the same time.
The medical nin –not including Sakura and Ino who were too busy dealing with Hinata's panic attacks, - had all insisted that Tenten be restricted to bed rest. A thing Neji would have insisted upon anyway.
Another benefit to that had been Tenten's escape from having to face her step-mother. Unable to stop the Queen of Rose from making her visit to the palace, Neji was able to keep her from having an entrance with his attendant.
And so the Queen went away more furious then anyone could understand. It made little sense to them, why would she be so interested in Tenten anyway? Wasn't she just a slave to Queen Mitsuki? Was she really so furious about not being able to see a former slave? And why was she coming all the way across the sea to see her in the first place?
It made no sense.
Neji stood beside the throne his Uncle was occupying, looking all the regal heir to the kingdom he was, staring slightly down his nose at the flustered and furious Mitsuki. Beneath the cool glass of his bored expression, there was a swirling pit of angry and nasty obscenities and questions he wished to hurl at the woman.
"I don't understand why you refuse so entirely to let me have my audience with her!" The woman said, her regal bearing having cracked a good five minutes ago. She now resembled a petulant child arguing with a teacher. The teacher being King Hiashi, who would not be moved on the subject.
"I don't understand," A sudden airy voice chirped from behind Neji, and he turned his head the slightest fraction as his cousin timidly came to stand beside him, looking down at the surprised Queen. "Why you have come to have an audience with her at all."
Most members present in the court were surprised, and it was clear that even the Princess Hinata herself was shocked at what she was saying, at the fact that she was saying anything at all. Neji and his Uncle schooled their faces well, and Neji found himself surprised that he hadn't been surprised at all by the speech.
"You see," Mitsuki said, snapping too once more. "I wanted to be sure that she has settled proper and-"
"A letter would have surfaced." Hinata interrupted, and a murmur rippled round the room as she continued. "Considering also the way she was presented here in the first place, I don't think you really care." Her voice was wavering with fear, but she had yet to stutter.
Neji hadn't witnessed the arrival of Tenten, but he had heard about it several times from several different people. Gossip like the kind Tenten stirred up lingered for a long time it seemed. He felt his eyes narrowing the slightest bit, hardening even more as he glared at the Queen of the Rose.
"She was a citizen of my country, I have a right to request a-"
"You have the right." Hinata broke in again, finally eliciting an amused half smile from her father, not that anyone noticed the King's pride at his daughter's rebellious display, all eyes being on Hinata after all. "To request. This doesn't guarantee you that your request will be approved." Hinata's hand lifted up and came to rest in a feather light touch on her cousin's shoulder. "And the Prince has requested that you be denied, and my Father the King has chosen to honor his over yours. I would suggest you take humility in that and except it." Hinata's hand dropped down along Neji's arm to his wrist, and then her fingers looped into his. Silently they turned and walked to the wings behind the thrones, out the door to the back hall and away from the now speechless indignant Queen.
Of course all good things are not without their bad. And while Tenten got to avoid the Queen, she also had to miss the wedding. But part of that was her own doing. Rebecca and Peter had tried to postpone the event, opting to wait until Tenten was better, but the girl wouldn't have any of it. As she had told Rebecca when the woman when she's mentioned it:
"You and Peter have waited too long for this, I'm not going to let you wait any longer on account of me."
And she'd said it with such urgency and in such an almost frightening way that Rebecca had conceded. The wedding was had.
The party was glorious, or so Tenten assumed. She could hear the music from her room if she lay still, which she did most of the time when she was awake. Her body was so weary from the sheer mental fatigue that she spent most of her time sleeping. At some point an unnecessarily huge slice of cake had been left by her bed, and she'd eaten it in several sittings as she passed from her conscious and unconscious states.
The worst part however was the separation the ANBU was insisting upon between Neji and Tenten. No matter how she worded it or who she asked, her visitation requests were denied. And not seeing him irritated her.
Irritated her. Tenten blinked in surprise as the thought passed her mind. Not so long ago she wouldn't have thought that. A chance at doing her own thing and leaving his moody and controlling ass alone would have been her first choice any day. But now, now she was lying in bed wondering what he could possibly be up to without her.
Without her. Tenten frowned, she didn't like that. And she wasn't all that sure why, but it almost made her mad to even think about it. So she stopped, and fell asleep again.
Before dreams had been absent from Tenten's sleep, but slowly as her memories had been added too they started to immerge. And now as she twisted inelegantly around in her bed, as it squeaked in protest, she dreamed about the new dragons in her head.
Their tongues were rough as they licked her face like puppies, and she twisted and laughed in her head to try and avoid them. Mei watched with glazed over eyes on the other side of the room, her tail thumping on the ground in a rhythmic pattern. This was nice, Tenten decided as the babies finally relented and allowed her to stand on her feet again. They couldn't speak as their mother could, and she wondered if they ever would be able too.
"If you are a Queen Mei, does this make them Princes?" She asked, brushing her hand over the nose of the dragon on her left, as the other snuffled at her ankles. Mei's voice rumbled with laughter.
"What is your fascination with titles then?" She asked, and Tenten's dark eyes glinted as she shot the creature a look.
"I don't have a fascination with them, I just understand them a little better now is all." She replied in a slightly miffed fashion, and Mei sighed, instantly seeking to mollify the girl.
"I wonder what your Prince would do should he learn that you were a Princess."
The dragon had meant it in a teasing fashion, one that would make the girl laugh as she was sure it would have. But instead she watched Tenten go rigid, her hands pausing over the twins as her shoulders tensed and locked up.
"He isn't my Prince." She ground out, not moving to look at Mei. "And he wouldn't do anything, and he's never going to find out."
This made Mei frown, and she rose from her spot, padding over to the girl and infants. "But why would he never find out, won't you be going back once the door comes down finally?" Mei nodded past the girl at the glowing door, but Tenten shook her head, out rightly refusing to look at it.
"I'm not going back, I don't want too." She crossed her arms over her chest, ignoring the confused protests of the twins. "I don't want to be a royal, I don't want to leave, I like it here." She stated in an agitated tone. "Why would I ever want to go back besides, I'd be killed if I dared."
Mei scoffed at that. "You know very well should you go back you would have this entire kingdom behind you, helping you regain power, you don't want to go back because you're afraid." She accused, but Tenten's jaw set in a serious way.
"I don't want to go back because I like it here." She replied.
Mei scoffed at her, and then said in a low wispy voice: "You're just scared." Tenten's mouth twisted into a snarl and she whirled fully on the dragon Queen.
"What do you know about it anyway?" She spat back, throwing her hands out to her sides in a large sweeping gesture. "You are a Dragon! You may be a Queen but that means nothing to you! Dragons don't have courts! They don't have people trying to undermine a power you only have because somewhere along the line in the past someone said your blood was special! You haven't got people ripping your family apart for that power! No people to rule or care for, nothing! Don't you dare try and say I'm scared, when you know I'm not scared of anything of the sort! I didn't ask for what happened to me, but it has, and it's opened my eyes to my former situation, a situation I will not go back too!"
Mei drew back to her full height and a full-fledged argument was about to take place when with a startled scream Tenten was ripped from insides the confines of her own head, back into the waking world.
She sat straight up and screamed her eyes wide and weak against the sudden bright light. She was aware that her sound was muffled and her hand flew up, grasping the hand placed there that stopped her from alerting anyone outside of her room of her distress.
"And, screaming. Why the screaming?" A voice beside her chided in a teasingly smug manner, and Tenten whipped her head round to face the speaker, her screams dying in her throat as she smiled against the hand.
"How did you get in here?" She asked, prying Neji's hand from her face. He sat on the edge of her bed, looking rather pleased with himself. She looked over her shoulder at her door, and saw it still firmly sealed by the ANBU, preventing not only from him entering, but her leaving. She looked back at Neji, who was smirking so hard that it was infectious.
"They didn't seal your bathroom." He told her, and her mouth formed an 'O' as she realized what that meant. She giggled at that, flopping back into her mattress as she marveled at the fact that the ANBU had made the same mistake she had.
"Hang on…" She said, her laughter suddenly ceasing as she propped herself up on her elbows, giving him a curious look. She saw how her expression set him on edge as he suddenly regarded her wearily. "How come it took you this long to figure it out…hasn't it been what, almost two weeks now?"
Neji looked sheepish, and his pearl eyes roamed away from her face to look at a spot on her wall. He didn't answer and she flumped back again, drumming her fingers on the mattress waiting. Finally, with a sigh he said,
"It must have slipped my mind." Tenten snorted and he gave her a light glare, sending her into a new fit of giggles.
She gasped loudly as he prodded her in the side in retaliation to being laughed at, and she slapped his wrist in response. After a moment they stopped, and she lay there on her side, one hand resting on the wrist pressing into the mattress near her stomach. Her other hand curled under herself, her fingers thoughtlessly twisting the rose charm round her neck.
"So how is life on the outside then?" She asked, tilting her head back and letting her eyes gaze up at Neji. They were half lidded with sudden grogginess and a thin halo of black was rimming her vision. His weight shifted more onto his hand as he absentmindedly moved her loose hair from her eyes.
"Well, as I am sure you've heard, Hinata sent the Queen of Rose packing, Peter and Rebecca are wed and lovely, and Leo's been awarded for his struggles." Neji made an unpleasant face. "Whatever they may be." Tenten laughed and rolled onto her back, her hand splaying cross the mattress on the other side of her body, her nails scraping her collar bone with the other still clutching her necklace.
Stupid Mei. Stupid Mei making her think about her blood and her nobility and her…Tenten suddenly shot up in the bed, startling Neji who reached for her arm to steady her as she rocked. She twisted and wrenched the necklace off over her head and flung it, rocking against Neji's shoulder as it soared against the wall.
Neji turned to ask her what she'd done that for, why she'd done that, when he saw her yawning smile as she eased back onto her pillows.
"I'm not going to ever be that again." She said, firmly and happily. Neji wondered what that was.
Kakashi looked over his teacup at his guests, his invisible smile obvious only by the occasional squint of his eye. Tenten was sulking into her cup, trying to keep from making eye contact with a single person in the room. Neji was doing a fairly good job of ignoring her as well, which was odd considering it was at the Prince's insistence that this trip had been made.
"Lee! Put that down, it's not exercise equipment!" Tenten suddenly quipped at the rambunctious boy, who did as she ordered instantly with a large smile and a cheer of youth and other things. The boy on her other side mumbled something about things being troublesome and stifled a yawn.
"This is the most company I have had at once since I was court marshaled!" Kakashi sing-songed in a cheerful voice. He glanced at the sudden surprised and suspicious faces of the teenagers at his table before he hurriedly added, "Kidding, I kid!" He laughed and Tenten rolled her eyes in apology as the young men looked to her for reassurance.
Shikamaru cleared his throat first, and he pointedly ignored the way everyone at the table stared at him, expecting his speech.
"So…I suppose we should talk about how you two met or something?" Kakashi blinked idly as he watched Tenten burry her face in her hands and stifle a groan. Beneath his mask he felt his mouth quirk up into a smile.
"What are you all?" He questioned. "Her brothers?" He laughed at that, enjoying not only his own joke but the uncomfortable expressions that passed over three of the four youths before him. Lee was merely beaming and babbling on at the possibilities of being related to anyone present at the table.
The conversation eased up after that, and Kakashi looked pleased as they sipped at their tea and chatted. Things would go smoothly. His gaze drifted to his Godson and he marveled at how like his father he looked.
And so he was pleased, sure that none of the people pleasant would be ratting him out any time soon for selling ANBU secrets to a girl.