You put me on a shelf and kept me for yourself,
I can only blame myself, you can only blame me.
—'Swallowed by the Sea'by Coldplay
Tenten's dark eyes flickered open, scanning her surroundings even as she gained consciousness. Soundlessly, she slid from her bed to a standing position, moving lithely and listening intently. Something had woken her from a deep sleep. Frowning slightly, she recalled a quiet footfall, too light for most to hear but more than enough for a trained ninja. Someone was in her house. Flexing her sleep-stiffened fingers, Tenten flipped her hands rapidly through a few familiar seals. She sidled silently up to the door that connected her bedroom to the rest of her living space. The kunoichi took a calming breath through her nose as she leaned against the shoji screen, adjusting her grip on her summoned kunai. Exhaling slowly, Tenten flicked the sliding panel back and crept into her moonlit living room. What doesn't belong? Her eyes latched instantly onto the large shadow crouched on her window seat, and her right arm rose in preparation to launch her weapon. Just before it left her palm though, the figure turned, its inky hair catching the soft light and illuminating a pair of pale eyes. All of the tension left Tenten's body. With a one-handed seal and a practiced flick of the wrist, her kunai vanished with a soft poof and a curl of smoke.
Stepping forward confidently, Tenten spoke in a tone just short of friendly. "Yes, Neji?" As she approached, the girl's hands rose to rest on either side of her hips. Her former teammate had removed the vest and undershirt of his ANBU uniform and they, along with his mask were piled next to him on the seat. Dark liquid was sliding sluggishly down his bared right arm as he tried unsuccessfully to bandage himself one handed. Edging a little closer, Tenten bit the inside of her cheek at the urge to blush at the sight of Neji's bare chest. They were hardly on speaking terms as it was, she paused for a moment at the thought, but he'd come all the way to her apartment…
Sighing, Tenten padded the rest of the way to the window and lifted the damaged arm carefully. Her straight expression caved a bit as she tugged the end of the bandage from Neji's mouth—he'd been trying admirably to tie it off with his teeth. Tenten's eyebrows rose at the state of the bandage: it was twisted and dirtied beyond decent use. Unwinding it carefully, she folded it into a thick bunch and pressed a clean patch firmly into the wound on his shoulder. "Hold this for a minute while I get something to clean it, alright?" At his nod, the weapons specialist slipped back through her room and into her private bathroom.
Tenten wrinkled her nose slightly as her bare feet contacted the cool tile. Her thin tank top and shorts weren't warding off the early autumn chill well. Seeing her short robe hanging next the door, she slipped it on without pausing to tie it closed. She gathered the bandages and antiseptic from her medicine cabinet, making a mental note to herself to restock on first aid supplies when she got a chance. Turning back, she shuffled into her bedroom, grabbing a hair tie as she passed her nightstand and tucking it into her robe pocket.
Returning to the living room, Tenten settled her supplies onto a side table close to the window. Fishing the tie from her pocket, Tenten gestured toward Neji's unbound hair. "May I?" He stared for a moment before shifting to give her access and muttering a soft, "Aa." Tenten's features smoothed as she gathered the dark strands, twisting them out of the way and into their customary loose tail. Running her fingers quickly through the long mass, she carefully eased-out a few wind whipped tangles, "There."
Turning back to the supplies on the table, she rummaged through them for what she wanted. As she tore the packaging on the antiseptic wipe, she asked, "So, how did the mission go?"
Lifting his pale eyes from his wounded chest, Neji looked to Tenten. "It was…successful." The kunoichi nodded, used to his succinct manner. Especially as of late. She gently lifted the wad of bandages away from his arm, swabbing the area down and getting a good look at the wound itself. Just below his collarbone, next to the junction of his arm to his torso, a medium sized gash stood out starkly against his pale skin. It seemed as if it was hindering the use of his arm. He would need to see a medic in the morning to check for muscle damage. Folding the cloth over to find a fresh surface, she dabbed at the deep puncture. "Rouge kunai?"
A sardonic grin lit Neji's face, "It was this or my subordinate's carotid."
Her smile dropped, "I see." Shifting slightly, she drew herself up to her full height. "You know…if the replacement is so much troub—"
"No." A pale glared slanted at her. "Your suspension stands."
A dark frown fell over the girl's features and she backed up, flinging the bloody wipe onto the table. Tossing her long braid over her shoulder impatiently, she grabbed a gauze patch and tore it open with enthusiasm. Tenten relished his nearly imperceptible wince as she pressed the gauze more forcefully than necessary onto his gash. Working silently, and with notably more detachment than before, she bandaged the ANBU-nin in record time. She paused for a moment, checking over her work: the gauze patch was secured sufficiently with adhesive med-tape. It was little more than a field dressing, but it would hold for the time being. Moving quickly away from her companion, Tenten gathered up the wrappings and used rags and disappeared into the kitchen.
The shinobi waited a moment, first lifting his arm experimentally, then flexing tentatively to test the dressing's strength. Grunting softly in satisfaction, the Hyuuga rose from his seat and followed the disgruntled weapons mistress. One hand braced on his wound, he leaned against the doorway and watched as Tenten flitted restlessly around the kitchen.
First she paused at the sink to rinse her hands and toss the garbage into the pail in the cabinet beneath it. Then she yanked open a nearby drawer, pulling free a hand towel then slamming it back shut. Pausing at the sink to wet the towel partially, Tenten fiddled restlessly with the tap. She couldn't seem to keep still. Breezing past him in the doorway, she paced back to the side table where the supplies had set.
Reaching it, the aggravated kunoichi scrubbed furiously at the flecks of drying blood, putting far more force than necessary into the simple action.
Turning to watch her as she passed, Neji smirked grimly at Tenten's show of temper. "It is this sort of behavior that earned you a suspension."
The young woman froze at his words, the muscles of her shoulders and back drawing taut. Dropping the rag, she spun slowly to face her estranged Captain. Her eyes narrowed further at the sight of him lounging listlessly against her doorjam, eyes wondering idly over her living room. It was as if he'd commented airily on the weather rather than insult her capability as an ANBU member.
Gripping the lip of the table behind her in a white-knuckled grip, Tenten spoke lowly. "I had a spotless record previous to that incident. A single injury is hardly grounds for a suspension of this length."
Neji pushed away from the doorway, standing tall and locking his lavender gaze onto hers. "Incident?," he asked coldly, "Four shattered vertebrae, a crushed shoulder blade, a compromised ribcage and a collapsed lung warrants a slightly less understated title, I think." Striding vehemently forward, he continued, "Your emotions got the better of you and you acted thoughtlessly. You risked your life, the lives of your teammates and the success of the mission. All for what? The sake of a child you'd never met before that night."
Tenten's dark eyes hardened under his verbal assault, her eyebrows drawing down into a deep glare. "That monster slaughtered the child's parents right in font of him! I wasn't going to wait around and let the bastard finish off the boy too!" Pushing away from the table, she clenched her fists until her nails bit into her palms.
Diminishing the gap between them, Neji intentionally towered over the much shorter ninja. "The situation is irrelevant. You deliberately disobeyed a direct order from your superior. Taking a personal stake in a mission is unprofessional and receiving grievous injury as a direct result only proves that point. Your behavior reflected poorly on the entire team—on Konoha itself, and you're being punished accordingly."
A mirthless laugh that Tenten hardly recognized as her own tumbled from her throat. Throwing up her hands and smiling cynically she replied, "Oh. I understand completely now. This is about your goddamned pride!" Leaning forward and setting her jaw, she jeered, "Hyuuga Neji: ANBU Captain, Prodigy of the Hyuuga Clan…Faileda mission. All because his foolish teammate showed—heaven forbid—mercy on some undeserving urchin!" Tenten twisted her features into a patronizing mask. "I made a decision as a compassionate human being to save that child, Neji. I don't expect someone like you to understand."
As soon as the words left her mouth, Tenten knew she'd hit a raw nerve. All traces of lavender drained from Neji's eyes: they were the molten white hue of a super-hot flame. In a rare display of ire the shinobi slammed his fists down on either side of Tenten, making the table below quake. Pressing forward, he forced the kunoichi to bend back awkwardly over the sidetable. Allowing his gaze to bore into hers, he spoke thickly, "Your conduct, Kunoichi, shames me—both as your former teammate and current Captain. It is unbecoming as a ninja of the Hidden Leaf. You are a ninja first and foremost, and it is regretful that you cannot seem to remember that."
Tenten gave a wordless cry of aggravation and shoved him back slightly. Before he could react, she jerked the left side of her robe down, revealing her ANBU tattoo. Thrusting her arm forward she spoke, "Do you see this mark? It means that powers higher than you decided that I am an exceptionally capable ninja. I knowingly broke the code! I made a conscious, moral decision to save that boy! There was no memory lapse or identity crisis involved!" Her face flamed red with her rage as she railed on, "My apologies, Hyuuga-sama…But not everyone can be the cold, heartless bastardyou are."
Though his facial expression never changed, it was as if the very air pressure around him suddenly dropped. His fury was nearly palpable. Tenten couldn't focus enough to follow his movement as he swooped in, stopping scant millimeters from her face. When he spoke, his voice was dark and furious. "Is that what you think of me? That I am—" For a moment, it seemed he was beyond words. With a low growl, he spoke again, voice even heavier with an unidentifiable emotion, "It was this prideful, heartless bastard that carried your broken, dying body back to Konoha, Tenten."
In the same instant, he gathered his discarded gear and disappeared back through the window he had used to enter, parting with the words, "Your suspension stands."
Sinking slowly to the floor, Tenten buried her fingers knuckle-deep into her hair. Her overflowing emotions were making her visibly shake—and she wasn't sure if she wanted to scream herself hoarse or cry her eyes dry. Maybe it was both. She laid there, her heart in her throat, until the dim light of early morning began to stream in through her windows. Memories of that night were running in a loop through her mind.
It had been an A-Rank mission, handed down with urgency from the Godaime herself. A small clan with political ties to Konoha was being targeted by an upstart band of highly skilled missing-nin hoping to make a name for themselves by interrupting cash-flow and support to the major Hidden villages. Neji and Tenten's ANBU squad had been assigned.
It had been nighttime when they arrived at the secluded clan house—and they were too late. The intelligence had been incorrect in respects to the timeframe, and the band of missing-nin had already struck. It had been a slaughter. None of the nobles had been ninja of more than chuunin rank, and the rouge-nin had decimated them mercilessly.
By the time Tenten had arrived, the missing-nin had made their way to the chambers of the elders of the clan. She moved in along with her squad…following the carnage. Neji had given them strict orders to fan out, observe the situation then report back. Do not engage. They had all nodded and split up, melting into the shadows and following the sights and sounds of bloodshed.
She had taken the first hallway she saw, slinking along and listening for any movement. Another scream had rent the air: this one so close it set her teeth on edge. Tenten tracked it quickly, pinpointing it to a room just a few doors down from her position. The sight that met her eyes had broken her heart.
From her vantage point on the ceiling just above the door, she could clearly see the face of a young child beneath a western-style bed, shuddering and shaking. The rouge-nin in the room; however, was more concerned with finishing off the middle-aged woman cradling the body of her husband. The child under the bed had just witnessed the murders of his parents. Without a sound or second thought, she had pounced from the ceiling. Hurdling into the enemy ninja from behind, she knocked him out instantly with a swift blow to the head. Quickly deciding that the boy had seen enough blood for a lifetime, the weapons mistress grabbed a poisoned senbon from the holster on her thigh and pricked the unconscious man. She couldn't help but think it was far better than he deserved.
Pushing the red and white panda mask up onto her head, Tenten had stooped down, coaxing the child out. The child had scuttled from under the bed, clinging helplessly onto her, crying hysterically; she had been so absorbed with calming him that she never heard the other rouge-nin come in.
This particular missing-nin had been a former Jounin of the Hidden Rock, and favored an enormous warhammer. A startled cry from the child had been the only thing that saved her from taking a massive strike to the head. She had rolled, shielding the boy with her body. With only the distorted image reflected in the child's eyes to work with, the roll was only partially successful. The swing had instead glanced off of her side, still smashing into her with enough force to jolt her ribcage and collapse her lung. She had tamped down the pain, checking her momentum and depositing the child in the nearest corner. Before the nin could rally another swing, she had staggered to her feet in front of the child, her hands flashing through Summoning seals.
The next few minutes had been a blur of weapons and smashing blows. At some point, the missing-nin had split his massive hammer into two smaller mallets, using them to deflect her senbon and kunai with startling skill. Tenten had just knocked one of the mallets out of his grip, when she looked up to see her opponent smiling. She had moved away from the boy in her attempt to finish off the nin, and he had used the opportunity to heft his remaining mallet—and throw it with all his strength at the child. Only then did she realize her mistake, and after punching a kunai into the laughing man's neck, she did the only thing she could: she dove in front of the flying mallet, saving the child. The last thing she'd seen were the boy's terrified eyes, then the blinding impact of the mallet with her back had whisked her into darkness.
Tenten woke with a start. She found herself curled tightly into a ball on the wooden floor of her living room. The events of the previous night poured back into her mind, and she winced at the memory. One more fight to add to the steadily growing list.
Things had been stressed between she and Neji long before the night of her injury. It had simply become a catalyst for all the pent up tension to finally vent. After all, it wasn't at all uncommon for a kunoichi to be injured during a mission, even to the degree that she had been. It was an accepted part of their lives as high level ninja.
Tenten sighed and slowly rearranged her sore limbs so she could stand. She had a therapy session with Sakura in—she glanced at the wall clock—fifteen minutes. Pressing her hand to her temple, she surged up from the ground and toward her bathroom for a shower.
The heat and steam of the shower proved therapeutic in their own right, and a little over five minutes later, a considerably more alert Tenten hurriedly dressed and set out. As she walked, she pulled her hair into a secure, high ponytail. She smiled ruefully as she thought of her trademark panda buns. Once she'd elevated to ANBU level, she'd forgone that childhood tradition, settling for the anonymity of her current style. Tsunande-sama had other plans; however, and her team had been extremely amused when Tenten received her standard red and white porcelain mask complete with two round ears and heavily circled eyes. Her disguise was the image of a panda.
Tenten wondered if someone was trying to tell her something. After all, history just wouldn't stop repeating when it came to her.
This is a two to three part series. The next installment will be released soon. As always, thank you for reading and please review:D