On a Bed of Thorns
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Naruto.
This was written more than two years ago as an entry for a fanfiction contest held by the LJ community NejiTen. The theme I chose was ' I Set You Apart' and the piece was finished moments before the deadline, so please excuse me for my mistakes.
'Now around the palace a thick hedge of briars began growing, which every year grew higher and higher... And from time to time Princes came endeavoring to penetrate through the hedge into the castle; but it was not possible, for the thorns held them, as if by hands, and the youths were unable to release themselves, and so perished miserably.'
(Excerpt: Briar Rose, from Grimm's Fairy Tales)
The gash on his arm dripped steadily to the ground as the battle raged on. Blood, some of his own but most of it not, had splashed onto the front of his previously white robes, spreading and blooming until they looked like grotesque roses upon his chest. He moved tirelessly, driven by the desire to protect and the desire to hurt and wound and kill as the desperation of the situation held him captive in its smothering embrace.
He activated the Byakugan and searched for her form while looping his leg around another attacker's to lock him into place before stabbing a kunai into the man's abdomen.
She had fallen, crumpled on the dry, hard dirt like a fragile girl he had never seen before, surrounded by her chakra strings and the poisoned kunai she had threaded through them. They were like a hedge of deadly thorns, shielding her body from the battle, but not from his eyes. She was unconscious and he didn't know how strong the poison was.
Obviously, one of their attackers was extremely accurate with senbon, because while he had been scouting through the area and Lee gathering firewood, they'd ambushed her, a lone kunoichi rummaging through her supplies. A few needles coated in some unknown substance and a flick of the wrist. One had hit her in the back and she dropped before any of them knew what was happening.
He was glad that she had made defenses before she was attacked. Now, at least they couldn't get to her body without getting scratched up or poisoned themselves. It was one small comfort in a sea of crushing anxiety.
The ninja in front of him gave a strangled scream of pain as he wrenched the kunai back out of the man's body. He would have a slow death unless he finished him off now. The acid from his stomach would spread and eventually hit his lungs, burning the tissues so they became useless. An agonizing, painful death that would keep him whimpering until the very end.
To him, it wasn't quite agonizing enough.
From behind him, he heard a strangled yelp of surprise and the whistling of cold metal through air. Distracted for the merest of seconds, he allowed himself to see what had happened.
Just as he had assumed, one of the nin had stepped towards her and right into her trap. In a domino effect, one tug on one chakra strings had led to not one, but two, three, four, five kunai swinging towards him. Each of them had been lethal in her hands–now, even unconscious and possibly dying, she still used them with the unparalleled skill of the true weapon's mistress of Konoha.
A sharp pain in his upper thigh shook him from his admiration as he whirled around to face his next opponent. The man standing in front of him was surrounded by chakra propelled senbon.
'Senbon.' Then, 'Tenten.'
He grit his teeth as he pulled the needle out of his leg, throwing it down to the ground, eyes challenging the nin to make another move.
"You're the one." He didn't usually feel it necessary to speak to enemy nin, but in this case, words were required if he was to know what happened to Tenten.
The nin's lips quirked upwards in a smirk as the floating senbon began to spin around him. "My needles always find their mark." The voice was low and rumbling, and not truly malicious. "An example lies there." He tilted his head towards the girl.
Neji raised his arm in stance, ready for the steel needles to fly towards him. In truth, he was more worried for Tenten's well-being than his own; this was exactly what many of their training sessions had been like– he didn't even feel much anticipation.
"Are they poisoned?"
"You'll find out soon enough."
It was maddening, frustrating, this blind guessing-game. In any case, he couldn't afford to delay any longer. Switching easily from a defensive stance to an offensive one, Neji started towards the senbon-wielder.
His muscles were tense, hard from years of training, as he began the steps of the dance he had so often completed the victor. The moon-silver eyes he had inherited from the family he had once hated so much seemed to glow demonically as they pierced the man in front of him. Hyuuga Neji was ready to kill, for once not because of a mission or an order but for a teammate, a friend, the one who had silently urged him on. His muse. His passion.
The glinting needles span faster, the light catching the points dauntingly, then came towards him like shooting stars.
'Hakkesho Kaiten!' The projectiles deflected off uselessly as Neji used his ultimate defense. In the minuscule period of time between an attack and a defensive stance, Neji used the pause and rushed forward to hit the man on the chest, forcing his chakra into the enemy nin's body.
The senbon-user fell, remaining needles dropping to the ground silently and unnoticed.
Breathing hard, his Byakugan scoured the area for any remaining nin still standing. When they found there were none, he pounced on the fallen man's body, ripping open his waist pack for an antidote of any sorts.
He gave out an audible sigh of relief when he pulled out a glass vial containing dark green pills, the top clearly marked. Rising slowly, he eyed the chakra strings surrounding Tenten and the kunai still threaded through them.
Gingerly, he gathered chakra into his palm and reached out to touch the strings, mentally willing her unconscious form to recognize him. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead as he bit his lip in concentration.
The strings flickered momentarily as the two energies met, then disappeared. He barely heard the thunks of the kunai dropping to the ground as he rushed forward, everything else forgotten except for the girl on the ground and the antidote clutched tightly in his hand.
He knelt down next to her body silently, sharp eyes gazing at her form. The sluggish rise and fall of her chest allowed his chest to loosen enough for him to be able to think again, but not for the knot to become undone. His hand, battle-scarred and toughened by hard work, rose and caressed her cheek, jerking back immediately after he realized what he had done.
Her skin, though amazingly soft, was hauntingly cold. He had to act fast or she would die in front of him.
Hands fumbling uncharacteristically against the cork stopped in the vial, he immediately rolled out a pill and hesitantly parted Tenten's lips with his fingers. He dropped it into her mouth, only to be further tested when she didn't swallow.
It was unlike him to be nervous, but he could remember no time when he had been as antsy as this. He bent down, licking his lips nervously, pausing when their faces were mere millimeters apart, so close he could feel her warm breath against his face.
Then, reminding himself the action wouldn't be anything but a ploy to save her life, he gently pressed his mouth against hers.
Her lips were as soft as her skin, and he could easily imagine himself drowning into her and forgetting everything. For a moment he allowed himself the sweetness of a kiss, then pressed deeper into her, forcing her to swallow.
He released her form as gently as he had compressed against it, eyes never leaving her face.
The seconds passed on so slow he could have sworn time had stopped. And then—
She coughed, sputtering as she took in a breath as a drowning woman would. Her amber eyes, vague when they opened at first but then sharpening as they focused on him, once again became familiar. Seeing him, recognizing him, her lips slowly curved up into a smile.
Without thinking, he pulled her body to his in a tight embrace. Pushing her back again, eyes memorizing her shocked face, he whispered in her ear the one secret he had kept from her. When she pulled him back close to her the worry that had been squeezing his chest finally evaporated into glorious relief.
Then, forgetting everything around them, he pressed his forehead against hers and kissed her again, this time simply for her, for the life they had chosen for themselves, for the friendship that had turned to something much more until it could no longer be just comradeship.
'I love you.'
And so, amidst the bodies of fallen men, the hedges of thorns now gone, the beauty finally awoke.
'...and to the end of their lives they lived happily and contented.'