And then there were three. I'm on a roll. Someone pass the butter. Disclaimers and this fic, they're like icing and gingerbread men.

15 Fragments of Ten Ten


One time, when she was green, she trained so hard and refused treatment in the name of independence and strength. One time, the calluses on her hands ruined her grip on her weapons. One time, she was forced to learn her limits.


Neji is waiting for the next battery of projectiles. They pretend the pause is to imitate the enemy's caution, but they both know the hiatus is so the burning in her chest and lungs can ease before she launches into her next attack.


It was weeks before her back let her perform her usual acrobatics. Guy-sensei was patiently hopeful, Lee loudly solicitous, Neji stoic. And she was just ashamed. Lee landed a hit on Gaara of the Sand. She, for all her skill and jutsu, couldn't even touch his sister. For that she trained harder.


Her lips are chapped and cracking, she hasn't bathed in forever, she hasn't slept in days, and every inch of her hurts. Still she dredges up a smile from somewhere for the gate guards when they say 'Welcome back' 'Looking good'; never mind the splits in her lip, the bags under her eyes and possibly some visible bruising. She's not bleeding, all her limbs are intact and she still has the full use of them. Looking good indeed.


She painted her toes once. Pink peeping out at the world. Guy-senseipulled a women's magazine from somewhere and started searching for insight on his student. Neji didn't care and waited for her to be ready for their usual spar. Which she couldn't do because Lee had his arms around her waist, hugging her for all he was worth, delighted she was embracing her feminine side. She punched his lights out.


Neji has disarmed her only once. Her bo had spun out of her grasp and he had her arm up behind her in the next breath. His fingers were cold and unforgiving like metal around her elbow as he tonelessly asked what she would do now. Neji has had his foot stomped on only once.


All her shirts have high mandarin collars. A millimeter of brocade can be the difference between still in the game, and dead.


The space between a fingertip and its nail is a place that holds soluble poisons safely, and no one has reason to question a woman in half a cheongsam dipping her finger into the wine. It suffices, though Ten Ten prefers just stabbing the bastards. If only the cleaning bill weren't so damn much.


She is light on her feet. She doesn't like using a bow because it means planting her legs properly on the ground, drawing support from the earth before releasing the arrow. Dragons are meant to soar in the heavens.


Sometimes she trains so hard she doesn't want to stop because the pain will come crashing down the instant she ceases movement. Usually Neji will intervene, press a few points, tell her off with that 'I'm not concerned for you; I just don't want to deal with another Lee' tone of voice. The feeling of all her muscles turning to warm jelly makes up for any offense she might take.


This is her poetry, her gathering calm; more natural and flowing than the meditation the others prefer. When she presses the soles of her feet together, she can push her knees to meet the ground. She can fit her upper body through the circle and rise, supporting all of herself on her palms. From there she can twist into any number of stances, unhook her legs from her spine and slide into a series of kicks, a beautifully wild dance of violence.


The last person who made fun of her hair compared her silhouette to a panda. He is lucky most people are born with two kidneys.


Ten Ten can cook. Better than Neji and Lee. Combined. Not better than Guy-sensei though. It just means three nights out of four, poison is a welcome opportunity.


Her eyes are brown. So's her hair for that matter. Anyone expecting to look into her eyes and find anything like the fire that drives Lee or the determination that defines Nejiā€¦ is going to be met with brown. And possibly an explosive for being too close.

Hands (reprise):

Her blade is an extension of her spirit, of her will. It cuts what she is capable of cutting. In her hands is her life, her future. One day, there will not be anything able to withstand this sword.