Translation Note- shinigami can be literally translated as "God of Death", while nee-san means older sister.

Epilogue – Raikiri no Yume

--Lightning Blade's Dream--

Beep. Beep. Beep. The heartbeat monitor's steady cadence echoed through the stark white room. A slight breeze moved the curtains from the window silently, letting the red sunset alight upon her face, serene, untroubled, hair loose and splayed about her. The sheets lay to the side, kicked away in a fit of nightmare, but now she slept peacefully on her back, one hand on the bandages wrapped around her stomach, the other held loosely by someone else.

Neji sat beside her, his uncomfortable visitor's chair scooted as close to her bed as it could be. Bandages similar to hers wrapped around his other arm, resting on his lap. His grip on her hand was slack and his eyes were closed, sleeping deeper than he had for many days. The door to her room slid open, and the nurse entered to check the monitors. The white-clad woman stopped and smiled at the sight of the two shinobi. It was against all codes and regulations for the young man to be there, but she only went about her business as silently as possible, then left as quietly as she came.

-xXx-

Alone, wheezing, gasping for breath, a red-haired boy clawed his way across the rough-hewn stone floor. "I won't... die here," he growled, ripping off his cracked, useless glasses and flinging them away. One hand scrabbled to force him, staggering to his feet, the other pressed against his chest to futilely stop the flow of blood, knowing the main wound was on his back. "I won't die... like her," he hissed, using his words as a litany to stand. Yumiko's face refused to free itself from his mind's eye, and he nearly fell as a fresh wave of agony flooded through him, stumbling against the doorjamb. Itatsu closed his eyes and rested against the solid wood for a moment. "Kuso!" he growled, forcing himself upright again.

A chill wind swept through him, freezing him, eyes widening. He was deep underground. There was no wind.

"I-ya-su," emerging almost from the stones itself, a white-clad man materialized before him, mispronouncing his name. "You've failed. Horrendously. My lightning blades have all perished, and your dream is gone."

For the first time in his life, Itatsu did not look away as his Raikage stepped forward. And in his leader's face, he saw death in human flesh. This, then, was a shinigami.

A flash of steel, and he collapsed, unable to move, his lifeblood draining away faster than before, his own heartbeat sending him to his death. "No," terrified, all he could see was her face. "Stay away!" A scream burst anguished from his throat. "Yume nee-san!"

-xXx-

"Tenten!" He shook her shoulders roughly, then gently forced her face up to meet his eyes. "We have to leave this place." Frustration warring with concern, he barely noticed Enrisu make his way across the dungeon room to shut off the beeping and flashing monitors. "Please, you have to listen to me!"

Her lips moved soundlessly as she pressed her fingernails into her blood-soaked face, eyes wide and terrified. Her mouth moved silently several times as she gazed into his eyes, then her gaze dulled as if to block out everything. Eyelids flickering, she fainted and sagged in his grip.

"What's wrong with her?" Enrisu came around behind Neji and crouched down to be at his level.

Neji shook his head slowly, cradling her body in his arms. "She's in some kind of shock. I don't know what could have triggered it."

His left hand clenched into a tight fist, Enrisu was silent for a moment as if trying to reconcile this broken girl with the bloodthirsty kunoichi who had hacked of his own finger. "Blood," he said finally.

"Blood?"

"Neji-san..." he hesitated, "I should tell you about what's been going on since you were imprisoned."

Tenten's eyes snapped open, and she bolted upright, breath coming in gasps and disheveled hair flying around her. A sudden yelp of pain burst from her mouth and doubled her over at the movement, her eyes squeezed shut against the flare of agony in her belly. As she tried to press both hands to her bandaged wound, a resistance and warmth against her other hand paused her and forced one eye open. "Neji?" Incredulence working against pain, she looked over at him.

The young man looked as though he hadn't changed clothes for several days, his face still dirt-smudged and his right sleeve rolled up to the elbow, his entire forearm wrapped round with bandages. Thousands of questions swirled in her mind, but she couldn't bring herself to wake him. Secure in the knowledge that he was with her, she laid back against the pillow and tightened her grip on his hand, feeling his own fingers reflexively tighten around hers. Tenten closed her eyes and knew Neji would be there to protect her from her demons.

-xXx-

I hope this finds you and Tenten-san well. Everything has been resolved to our satisfaction. Most of the Village Hidden in the Clouds remains unaware of your coming, and those few who do know nothing of the circumstances of which you were forced to flee. I do not know how Raikage-sama will choose to twist the meaning of what happened, but I will now tell you the truth. Your Hokage can do what she will with this information.

The purpose of our group was to capture a member of the Hyuuga clan and extract from him the secret of the Byakugan. Itatsu is dead, so only Raikage-sama can say what our plans were once that was accomplished. Yes, that is possibly the most important piece of information I can impart to you. Raikage-sama... no, the Raikage, was involved in this plan. He was fully aware of everything going on here. Do with this information what you will, Neji-san. This is all I have to report, so this will be the only message I send; it would be risky to send more.

And, Neji-san, I have enclosed something you may find valuable. You may recall the funeral given to my brother. Inside, with this letter, I have enclosed the diamond that was formed from your father's ashes. I am bound by oath to speak no further of this ceremony. I know this is no consolation for everything my village has done to you and yours, but I can only hope that this will allow you to forgive me for my actions.

Sayonara.

"It's signed Mamoru Enrisu." Tsunade's sharp gaze snapped up over the paper. "Do you trust this boy?" The morning sun glinted from her blonde hair and illuminated the papers strewn about her desk.

Neji stared into the diamond in his hand. "I do." Slipping the stone into his pocket, he forced himself to meet her eyes. "If you have nothing further on the subject of my report...?"

"Dismissed." Tsunade waved a hand, and the young man bowed and exited.

"Tsunade-sama... what does this mean for Konoha?" Shizune bit her lip. "Will we go to war?"

The Hokage steepled her fingers and gazed over them hard. "It's not up to us. The Raikage will make the first move."

-"Are you going to be safe?" Neji stood opposite Enrisu, one hand on the mane of a horse. Tenten was already astride the magnificent beast; Neji had lifted her there mere moments ago, as she still showed no sign of waking.

"Someone needs to stay here and continue investigating this," was his response. The horses hooves crunched against the snowy ground as it snorted, ready to go. "I'll send a message by hawk. There is no evidence I helped you, so I should be alright if you go now."

"Why are you doing this? For Konoha?"

"Iya." Enrisu shook his head and turned on his heel. "For my brother." -

--owari desu--

A/N: Done! Finally! This went through several drafts over the last month, most of which had Tenten in various states of mental collapse. For those who are interested, I have a deleted scene from this epilogue that was never finished. Feel free to check it out on my livejournal, or if for whatever reason you can't go on livejournal, PM me with your email address and I'll send it via email.

Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope to see some of you in my next work "Itsuka" ("Someday"), where I explore the concept of what would have happened if Sakura had followed Sasuke and joined Orochimaru herself. I have no idea if this has already been done, but I'd really like to play with it myself.

Thanks to: Merciless Ruby, iAtRI, mysterious-bluerose, KazeRose, DarkerSpirit, JanuaryFriend and everyone who read and reviewed the whole story. Arigato gozaimashita!