Author's Notes: This was a long while coming, yet again. Travelling chapters always give me great difficulty, so that' s why... This went to the beta and back like four times. *sighs* I was planning on putting all the travel in one chapter but my characters (sorry, Kishi-sama - your characters!) kept on talking, so I'm splitting it up. The next chapter will contain the rest of the journey and then a little reunion with I know you know who! *hint hint* This is when the juicy stuff starts popping up, so keep an eye out for it. I won't make you wait nearly as long. *smiles*
Thank you: to Masashi Kishimoto for allowing me to use his characters to let my mind loose, and thanks to my boss for giving me some great ideas for this story yesterday, and a special thank you to my beta reader, Arya Tai, who is incredible and the absolute best! You take all the crap out of my writing. (L) EDIT: and give me the courage to be drastic and trust my characters. And thanks to the few of you who reviewed the last chapter! Guys, your reviews tell me what's crap and what's not and are one of the most satisfying parts of writing, so please do review! I always reply.
On The Road
The team of Leaf ninja made good time that day. As they headed east the woods gradually thinned out, but Neji kept to the trees anyway. It was the fastest mode of travel since they could use the tree branches as leverage to catapult themselves forward while running. They didn't encounter any other travelers except for a pack of deer that fled from them, startled by their sudden emergence from the foliage. Neji had arranged them in a 'mirrored spearhead' formation: himself up ahead followed by Naruto and Hinata (presumably to keep an eye on them), and then a mirror image that was made up of Sasuke and Sakura with Tenten bringing up the rear.
While journeying, the group of friends chatted amongst themselves to liven up the dreary business of travelling through seemingly endless forests. Naruto dominated the conversation with grandiose tales of his training with Jiraiya. Sakura took it upon herself to downplay these stories to more realistic proportions, to Naruto's dismay and the others' amusement.
"And there was a giant tidal wave when he hit the water! The whole hot spring was drained." Seeing his teammates' skeptical looks, Naruto cried out: "I'm telling you, it really happened!"
"Sure it did, Naruto!" Sakura called to him, rolling her eyes.
"In a dream," Sasuke added lowly.
"W-well, I believe you, Naruto-kun," Hinata declared with a smile. "What happened next?" Tenten smiled at Hinata's efforts to cheer him up. With Sakura, Ino and herself at her back, Hinata had come out of her shell over the years, tentatively reaching out towards Naruto with gentle words, soft smiles and home-brewed medicine. Tenten observed the way Hinata lifted her face towards him like a daisy turning towards the sun. Naruto gesticulated wildly to sketch the scene for her, smiling whenever Hinata gasped or giggled at his story. The attraction between the timid girl and hyper blonde was a peculiar thing, Tenten mused. They were polar opposites, but then wasn't it a well known fact that opposites attract?
"Cute, aren't they?" Sakura mused, shooting a grin over her shoulder.
"It's about time!" Tenten replied.
"Well, I guess persistence pays off," Sakura replied in hushed tones before turning back to the front. Tenten didn't miss the wistful look she shot at Sasuke, strong and silent beside her. She knew her friend didn't think there was much hope for a future relationship with her childhood crush. Tenten disagreed.
Sasuke and Sakura were remarkably alike to Naruto and Hinata. They were also polar opposites, the charming and cheerful Sakura versus the brooding, mercurial Uchiha. And yet, they too pulled towards one another inevitably. The sparks that flew between them two weren't as easily noticed, but they were there, writhing beneath the surface. It was obvious once you knew what to look for.
Her gaze shifted towards Sasuke who ran in front of her, a dark shadow with his black hair and matching sleeveless outfit. Against the field of black of his back, the red and white of the Uchiha fan stood out glaringly. Tenten saw the way his lips curved when Sakura joked, the way he watched her like a hawk when she wasn't looking. She knew his protectiveness of Sakura by far exceeded Naruto's. If it were any other man, Tenten would call it attraction - in Sasuke's case she described it as utter devotion.
However, Sakura was determined not to let her feelings show, for his departure had put a big dent in her belief in love. Tenten had been in a front row seat to witness what Sasuke's departure did to Sakura – and his return hadn't been a lot better. Tenten involuntarily frowned at the Uchiha's back. She figured that no girl should have to shed such an amount of tears over a single boy.
Yet Sakura accepted Sasuke back without question. It took even her and Naruto a while to find a place for him in their lives, but they did it anyway, as though they'd planned the whole thing between the three of them in secret. Naruto and Sakura volunteered as guards the day Sasuke returned. Officially they were there to keep Sasuke in check, but Tenten vividly remembered seeing the three of them walk down the street and realizing that Naruto and Sakura considered themselves bodyguards rather than guards.
Of course, Naruto and Sakura were exceptions. It took a long time for the rest of the Konoha shinobi to adapt to the Uchiha's presence. Tenten had to admit she herself had harbored strong feelings of resentment towards Sasuke for what he did to her friend, until one day she saw the man take a knife in the chest for Sakura. It was then that Tenten understood the Uchiha had never stopped considering them his teammates and friends or considering Konoha his home. He'd merely put it on hold.
Tenten glanced at Neji's back, visible between Naruto and Hinata up ahead. Neji's family had been some of the toughest nuts to crack back then. The possibility that the Uchiha clan might rise to power again did not sit well with them. When the Hokage had allowed Sasuke to wear his forehead protector again, there was quite an uprising within the council. Naruto had snapped several times and gotten involved in fights with those who opposed Sasuke's reinstatement as a Konoha shinobi, and Sakura adamantly refused to heal those individuals whom were beaten up by the blond.
But the rumors and suspicions gradually died down as Sasuke accepted S-rank after S-rank, putting his life on the line for the village time and time again to prove his loyalty. And then four months ago, he had made it into Anbu. Tenten was well aware that one of the main reasons why he'd been accepted by the elite of the elite was because Neji had spoken on his behalf, and the words of one of the youngest individuals to ever get in (second only to Kakashi and the late Uchiha Itachi) weren't easily cast aside in ANBU.
Sasuke and Neji had been on their fair share of missions together since then, first as squad captain and subordinate and then as equals. Tenten wouldn't call them friends - she wouldn't call anyone but Naruto and Sakura Sasuke's friends, really. But there was strong mutual respect and understanding between the two prodigies.
Neji's voice came from the front of the group, shaking her from her thoughts. "We're picking up the pace," he announced, setting the example by propelling himself to the next tree with even more force. Tenten and the others mimicked the move in a flash, the forest floor below and the trees around them blurring beyond recognition.
Judging by the sun it wasn't yet seven o'clock when Neji slowed his pace. Tenten frowned. Neji was a demanding leader, which meant making long hours and not taking rest until nightfall. She sped up her pace until she was level with him. "Neji?" she inquired. He looked at her sideways and read the question she knew was written in her features. Why so early?
"There is a storm coming," he explained. Tenten comprehended instantly. Those special eyes of his allowed him to predict any upcoming changes in the weather with frightening accuracy. Neji's weather forecasts were almost as accurate as her aim. 'Almost.' Tenten smirked at the thought.
"We're stopping!" Neji called back over his shoulder, jumping down to the ground instead of to the next tree branch. Tenten and the others followed his example and dropped into a crouch on the forest floor.
Naruto straightened and spoke up. "What's up, Neji?"
"Bad weather is headed our way," Neji announced.
"A storm?" Sakura queried, frowning. They had been blessed with good weather all day, and it was summertime too; the Fire Country was prone to suffer from spring showers, not summer storms. She cast a look overhead. The pieces of sky that could be seen through the foliage were bluer than blue.
Sasuke raised a skeptical eyebrow in agreement with her. "Are you sure, Hyuuga?"
"Doesn't look like it," Naruto observed, stating the obvious. "Hinata-chan, your cousin's a liar. Or stupid!"
"You're the one that's stupid, dobe," Sasuke deadpanned.
Naruto's eyes grew larger and he took a step towards his best friend. "You wanna say that to my face, huh?" he challenged.
Sasuke's curt reply of "Hn!" only served to infuriate Naruto further. Sakura had to stretch her leg and trip him in order to prevent him from coming at Sasuke.
"Um, guys?" Hinata called timidly, causing all of them to focus on her. She had activated the Byakugan and tilted her head back, eyes focused on something only she and Neji could see.
"Neji-nii-san is right... There are some dark clouds to the north, and with this wind..." she trailed off.
"In twenty minutes we'll be drenched," Neji finished for her. "I want to be settled in by then. So stop squabbling."
Naruto crossed his arms with a huff, still defiant out of habit. Sakura sighed. "Don't question him, Naruto."
Tenten nodded in agreement. "I know from experience that it's useless," she muttered.
Neji narrowed his eyes at the blond dangerously. "And don't question Hinata-sama either!" he added. Tenten rolled her eyes.
Naruto blinked as realization dawned and then waved his hands nervously. "That's not what I meant!" he exclaimed, his voice raised with panic. He spun around to face Hinata. "Hinata-chan, you know I didn't-"
"I know," Hinata said softly, interrupting him with a smile. Naruto grinned at her sheepishly in relief, and Tenten could barely hold back a snicker. They were so obvious.
Neji took advantage of the silence by taking control of the situation again. "We settle in for the night now and wake earlier tomorrow," he continued. It was no use heading through the kind of weather he foresaw. They would move a lot slower and all their supplies would be soaked. The rain would also limit their vision considerably and make the tree branches slippery. They might as well head to bed early and get a head start in the morning to make up for it. "I've located a good camp site up ahead. Follow me!" he commanded as he turned around to lead the way through the foliage. After a brisk walk of about a minute, Neji stepped to the side and signaled for them to duck underneath a particularly low branch.
Tenten ducked last and then straightened into the clearing, casting a look about. The clearing was shaped like a hexagon, the six corners marked by weathered oak trees. Their branches connected up in the treetops, which prevented them from being seen from the sky. The big oaks blocked almost all sunlight, so no shrubbery grew between them; the ground was covered with nothing but soft grass. The clearing was large enough for six, but still relatively cozy. Tenten smiled. One could always trust Neji to find the perfect campsite.
She shed her pack near one of the tree stems with a big sigh. "Ah, that's much better!"
Tenten imagined this was what Lee felt like when he lost his weights. Neji hadn't yet decided what their cover story was going to be, so she hadn't known what kind of clothing to bring. In the end, she'd just packed everything she might need, including two kimono. She'd used a compression jutsu to bring the large pack down to a manageable size, but that didn't make it any less heavy. In spite of all her training and stamina, carrying that weight at top speed for a whole day did wear her out. Tenten took out her bed roll and spread it from the base of the tree, pointing towards the middle of the clearing.
"Tired?" Neji asked. He picked the tree next to hers and followed her example with his signature cat-like grace. Tenten diverted her eyes, ignoring the pang of desire in her gut at the way the muscles of his back rolled.
"Yeah," she replied. "You've worn me out."
He gestured at her pack. "You won't need half of what's in there."
"Your fault! Besides, better to have it and not need it than the other way around," she countered with a glare.
"Aren't we touchy today," Neji observed. Amusement was written all over his face, and Tenten glowered.
"I have every right to be," she huffed.
Neji smirked. He'd always thought of her grouchiness as rather endearing. "I never said you didn't." Tenten chose not to reply, knowing he'd have her cornered in no time.
Sakura diplomatically placed her stuff in between Naruto and Sasuke. Tenten grinned at that. A little while ago, Sakura had told the girls the amusing tale of what had ensued when one morning on a mission, her boys had woken up in each other's arms. She hadn't allowed them to sleep in adjoining positions ever since. Soon, a six-pointed star shape had been formed by all their sleeping bags.
Naruto occupied himself with scouring the edge of the camp site for firewood. Once he'd collected a pile of satisfactory dimensions, he arranged them in the middle of the clearing. Neji nodded in approval. "Good, Naruto."
The blonde grinned. "I'm an expert at building fires."
"What about lighting them?" Tenten suggested as she sat down near the edge of the wood pile with the other girls.
"I would, but Sakura-chan has the matches," Naruto explained. "Remember, Sakura-chan?"
"No, I don't," Sakura replied calmly. She raised both her eyebrows at him, exasperation clearly visible in the tiredly amused set of her mouth. "It's your turn, not mine." She sighed. "You forgot to pack them, didn't you?"
Naruto scratched his neck, blinking innocently. That look of hers was making him nervous. "You forgot to tell me not to forget!" he managed, turning her words around.
Neji interrupted then, not wanting things to escalate. Past missions with the trio had taught him that when Team Seven was involved, things were prone to escalate a lot quicker than usual. "Uchiha, if you please?"
"Stay back," Sasuke warned, his fingers breezing through the seal sequence with ease. "Katon: Goukakyuu no Jutsu!" A small-sized fireball shot through the ring he formed with his fingers and hit the dry wood, which instantly caught fire. The flames flared dangerously high at first, then settled down and continued to eat away at the wood slowly but steadily.
"You're a lifesaver, Sasuke," Sakura said gratefully. Sasuke smirked and Naruto pouted, until the rumbling of his stomach made him turn to more pressing matters.
"So, what's for dinner?" he asked cheerily. Tenten silently wondered if the man even knew what embarrassment was.
"You don't get dinner, Naruto," Sakura huffed. "You ate your entire share for the day this morning at Ichiraku's."
Naruto dropped his head in a dramatic display of sadness, clutching at his heart. "Right here, Sakura-chan."
"Um, I could make some stew?" Hinata offered.
Neji smiled at her. "That would be great, Hinata-sama."
Tenten offered her assistance and together they set up an extendable tripod from which to string the small kettle Hinata had brought. They sliced and diced vegetables with a slim kunai while waiting for the water to boil.
Naruto made a remarkable recovery at the thought of stew. "I'll be your personal food taster, Hinata-chan!" he offered cheerily.
Hinata smiled. "Um, sure! If you want to, that is. I mean, I could probably use a second opinion on the seasoning," she added shyly. Tenten stole a glance at Neji, but he remained silent – if all-seeing.
Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "I am not eating anything you've touched, Naruto."
"Why you...!" Naruto growled, his head swerving away from Hinata to stare Sasuke down. "Sasuke-teme! What's that supposed to mean, eh?!"
"Guys!" Sakura sighed. "I'm tired and hungry, so you're both getting hit unless you cut it out."
Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "There's no logic behind that reasoning, Sakura."
She punched him in the arm. "That's one..."
Naruto grinned broadly. "Take that, teme!"
"And that's two," Sakura finished while bopping Naruto over the head. The circle of companions chuckled heartily at their antics.
"I was wondering," Tenten spoke up, "Where do you plan to head when we reach Wave Country, Neji?"
"I understood from Sasuke that you have friends there," Neji replied wih a glance at Naruto and Sakura.
"Ah, Tazuna, Tsunami and Inari-kun!" Naruto exclaimed. "Can we make a stop there? We haven't seen any of them in years."
Sakura nodded in agreement. "That would be nice."
Neji shrugged. "It's also beneficial to the mission. Upon our arrival we need to orientate and see how much the general public knows without attracting too much attention."
"So we need to talk to someone who knows things," Tenten supplied.
"Someone who can be discreet about our visit," Hinata added as she emptied a packet of lentils in the kettle.
"Exactly, Hinata-sama," Neji said. "Can we trust that family?"
Naruto nodded. "Definitely!"
"Tazuna is also influential in the village, so if anyone knew anything, it would be him," Sasuke observed. "He built the bridge that saved the country from falling into complete ruin."
"The bridge named after me!" Naruto boasted, puffing out his chest.
Sasuke ignored Naruto pointedly while Sakura took over. "So, he is like a saviour to the people. People would probably come to him if their loved ones went missing. And he's a pretty organized guy," she continued, "So I wouldn't be surprised if he kept a record of the disappearances and stuff. Or at least, the ones he heard about."
"That's convenient," Tenten observed.
"Tazuna-jii owes us big time," Naruto added with a grin. "He won't refuse."
"He knows the Daimyo, too," Sakura said. "So maybe the enemy won't hurt him even if he helps us, for fear of what the Daimyo will do," she suggested. "Perhaps this Kaien won't be able to afford affronting him."
Neji's eyes grew hard and he narrowed them until only thin slits of silver were visible. Tenten knew that look; it was the way Neji looked at someone whom he suspected. "We don't know what our enemy can and cannot afford, so let's not speculate on that. We are keeping this family's involvement as low-key as possible, understood?" They all nodded in agreement. If there was one thing Konoha ninja did not do, it was endanger innocent civilians. "Besides," Neji continued, "it's more what the Daimyo didn't do that has me worried," Neji admitted.
A delicate frown appeared on Hinata's forehead. "What do you mean, Neji-nii-san?"
"Think about it. If this is something he and his private army can handle themselves..."
"They wouldn't need us," Sasuke said lowly. His dark eyes held the same suspicions as Neji's.
"And if they can't, why wait so long to call for help?" Neji threw into the group.
Tenten understood. "His lordship is hiding something!"
Neji nodded. "Exactly."
Tenten realized they would have to investigate two interlinked cases now instead of just one. Luckily their team was large, and they could split up into separate units to look at different sides of the story. Her and Neji's viewpoint would be from the inside. A tingle of anticipation settled in her gut as she thought of what was to come: the usual excitement of knowing she was going to have to go into enemy territory. A few minutes later, raindrops began to hit, sizzling when they hit the hot stew in the kettle to which Hinata had added unions and beef strips.
Neji smirked in satisfaction at Naruto. He didn't say 'I told you so', but the triumphant look in his eyes said it all. Naruto huffed, muttering something about smart-ass geniuses, and Neji's smirk only grew. "I admit I might be one minute off," he conceded off-handedly.
Tenten chuckled as she shook her head in exasperation. "Want to do something about this rain, Mr. Genius?"
Neji happily complied, drawing a chakra shield over all of them.
Tenten shifted in her sleeping bag. She had easily succumbed to sleep's siren song after their surprisingly tasty impromptu dinner, but she had dreamt of Wave Country and now she was filled with so much anticipation and excitement to be back in the field again that she'd woken herself up over it. She knew it wasn't even three in the morning yet, because Neji had promised to wake her then so that she could take over the watch. Tenten shut her eyes and willed herself to go back to sleep, but it was to no avail. The adrenaline in her veins countered her attempts effortlessly.
She pushed the fabric of her sleeping bag away from her in frustration, sitting up to stretch while surveying the clearing. The woods surrounding them were dark, but she could make out the forms of her friends due to the fire that still smoldered. All of them were sound asleep, except for Neji who sat next to the fire in vigilant watch. The glow from the little flames gave his irises a golden sheen as their gazes locked.
"Morning," Neji muttered. He kept his voice down to keep from waking the others. They were ninja, after all, and it wouldn't take much noise to have them up on their feet with a weapon in hand. Neji's soft tone had Tenten shivering a little.
She smiled as she freed herself from the tangles of her sleeping bag and sat down by his side. "Technically, yeah." She rubbed her arms absently. The light from the fire showed her that they were covered in goosebumps, which she ignored. "Everything cool?"
Neji raised one perfectly sculpted eyebrow at her. "Yes. Several tradesmen from the port town are camping on the edge of my range, but they're no threat." He hesitated, but spoke again. "I've been thinking."
She knew he was referring to their cover story. Tenten set her chin upon her bent knees and looked at him in interest. "Come up with anything?" she inquired curiously.
He shook his head half-heartedly. "Maybe."
She smirked at him, unperturbed by his avoidance tactic. "I don't believe that."
Neji laid back in the wet grass, lacing his hands behind his head. Tenten looked at him from the corner of her eye, appreciating the way the muscles of his abdomen stretched. The look on his face was thoughtful, but serene. He reminded her of a black panther lazing about: relaxed for the most part, but still beautifully lethal and incredibly perceptive. This close to him, she was acutely aware of his powerful chakra signature. She took a moment to revel in the strong, steadfast feel of it before forcing her thoughts away from the desire twitching in her gut and back to their mission with some difficulty.
"I came up with a lot of things. Half of them required me to leave my back unprotected and the other half required me to leave you unprotected," he explained. "Or the others," he added almost as an afterthought. "Neither is an option."
"You don't have to protect me, Neji."
He turned his sharp Byakugan eyes on her. He always kept his bloodline limit running while travelling and especially when on watch. She'd seen users pass out after mere hours of constant use, whereas Neji managed up to a whole day without breaking a sweat. Even after all those years of training with him, watching him and helping him develop, he still amazed her whenever she stopped to think about it. His eyes pierced her to the ground where she sat. "I will if I can help it."
Tenten huffed but smiled as she did it. The fact that he took her protection so close to heart had annoyed her when they were first teamed up together as genin, back when he'd done it because he believed she needed it. She took it as an insult. Over the years, Tenten knew she'd succeeded in convincing him that she didn't need to be saved – at least, not most of the time.
Nowadays, Neji protected her because he cared, which was infinitely better. "So, did you find a middle road?"
The look in his eyes somehow grew more intense and Tenten crushed the urge to shiver.
"Remember that mission back when we were fourteen, in the Tea Country?"
Tenten wracked her memory, mentally flipping back through the hefty tome of Team Gai's past missions. She remembered then. They had been ordered to infiltrate a 'couples only' establishment in Tea Country. Gai-sensei's initial plan had been for Tenten and Lee to pose as a couple while Neji and himself provided back up. While Lee had instantly declared his support for the 'most youthful undertaking!' both Neji and Tenten weren't quite so agreeable. The idea of playing lovey-dovey with Konoha's Green Beast was downright terrifying. In the end, she had to pose as a couple with Neji. The mission turned out to be infinitely worse than it could ever have been were Lee her make believe love interest, because she hadn't needed to act.
Tenten felt her face heat up slowly and was grateful for fire's soft orange light that flickered across her face. Neji wouldn't be able to see her blush at the memories. "Yeah, I remember," Tenten whispered. The day they completed that mission had been the day she realized her feelings for Neji were more than a mere crush.
Neji tilted his head. "Well, it's like that, but a little more complicated." She nodded for him to continue. "We're eloping."
That was enough to make her stutter. "W-what?" Her thoughts went haywire for a moment before she forced her eyes shut and blinked several times to pull herself together. She had expected such a thing, and yet… To hear it coming from his lips was a whole other matter entirely.
Neji turned over to his side to face her and explain better. "Travel partners are suspicious, as they could just as well be on a mission. Friends travelling together wouldn't have any incentive to seek out a man like Kaien. The only ones who would turn to him are lone rogue ninja who covet power, which we can't pretend to be since I'm not leaving you alone, and couples fleeing from angry family members and the likes."
"So, future in-laws giving us difficulty?" Tenten prided herself for being able to form a coherent sentence.
Neji nodded. "Yes, something like that." His voice grew more serious. "We will have to get up close and personal with this man. We have dealt with people like him before. You're going to have to be nice to him to get him to trust you, and so, he is going to want you." To Tenten it seemed as though his eyes blazed harder than the fire at that point. "He is used to getting what he wants, like a spoiled little child, but we might be able to hold him off on that particular front a little while longer if you're already taken."
Tenten shrugged. "Okay. As long as I get to beat him up in the end."
One corner of Neji's mouth kicked up into that irresistible smirk she loved so much. "I'll try to keep him in one piece until you get there."
Tenten grinned. "You're assuming you're the first one to get to him. Hasn't this job taught you not to make assumptions?" she joked.
Neji smiled in reply. "Not yet, perhaps. Infiltration work like the mission we're on is largely based on assumptions. After all, we need Kaien to assume we can be trusted, when he really can't be sure." Neji sobered up then. "To gain their trust, we must make sure they believe we don't trust anyone else. They will never believe we've eloped when..." He trailed off, gesturing at his forehead.
Tenten nodded in understanding, "No forehead protectors, you mean."
There was a rough edge to his voice. "Yes."
Tenten observed his face as he stared at the fire, taking in the little frown on his noble brow. Underneath that forehead protector of his was the seal that branded him as a branch member of his clan. There into his forehead was etched all the unjustness and prejudice he'd been faced with from a very young age, almost beyond repair. She knew he didn't like to bare the seal in public, and at the same time whenever he took of his forehead protector there was a rigid, fierce pride in the set of his shoulders - more than usual.
Seeing the seal made her a little sad, but more than that it made her angry. Seeing Neji develop into an amazing ninja over the years made it all the more difficult to believe that his family for the most part refused to recognize his talent and hard work. Whenever the head family knocked him down and Neji stood even straighter and worked even harder in response, her heart ached. On the other side, the way he defied destiny made her incredibly proud.
She cleared her throat softly in an attempt to draw him away from the dark thoughts that had undoubtedly reared their ugly heads in his mind. "Well, I sure am glad you're the one I'm infiltrating with, instead of Sasuke or Naruto." She chuckled at herself. "Heaven forbid, that would be a disaster..." Tenten was pleased to see that the expression on his face was a little more cheery. "When do you want to head out?" she inquired, turning to practical matters again.
"At five," he mumbled, sounding weary.
Tenten beheld him, a soft smile creeping onto her lips. He'd rolled onto his back again, the way he usually slept - his blind spot to the ground - and the Byakugan had deactivated. A warmth filled her up as his eyelids drooped. It was a great privilege to be allowed to see Neji worn out - he'd never let his eyes shut in the presence of anyone but her, Lee and Gai-sensei. Mostly her, since the other two would accuse him of lacking youth. He might be the most admirable man she'd ever met, but he was still only human.
"Get some sleep," she murmured. "I'll hold the fort."
His smile back at her was genuine and she felt it burn in her chest. "I know you will."
Tenten grinned lopsidedly. "Sleep tight, Neji."
He only moaned sleepily in reply.