A Naruto Fanfiction
One Last Gift
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, nor am I making money from this fanfiction.
If you guys are curious, I have written a Shikamaru/TenTen side story about their mission together called, 'Can't Take You Anywhere'. It shouldn't contain any information you would need to understand this story.
I can't believe it's been almost a year since I updated! This chapter has been sitting on my hard drive forever waiting for me to figure out how to end this story that was started as a one shot with no clear plot in mind. I hope you like it, and hopefully I will find the inspiration needed to work on a sequel (or two!)
The moment Neji felt his wife's body go lifeless, any residual lust generated moments before evaporated. The hold he had on TenTen's arm was a bad one, and with the way his grip had tightened as she fell away from him there were sure to be bruises by morning. Neji adjusted his hold and pulled TenTen into his arms. He vividly remembered each and every time he had held this woman in his arms, and not one of them was yet to his liking.
Neji walked cautiously to their bed, with his unfastened pants threatening to drop to his ankles at any second, and TenTen's partially unraveled chest wrappings causing a tripping hazard, Neji did not want to add an incidental fall to the evening's events by moving too quickly.
When Neji had first located TenTen after Hisoka's parents had come looking for their son after the child had failed to return home, Neji had noted TenTen atypical low chakra levels and over used pathways. It was a rare thing it 'see' her like that, as TenTen always erred on the side of caution, never depleting herself outside of a live-or-death situation in case she ever needed to have her teammate's back, but right now it was even worse. Neji could not sense the faintest trace of charka. He activated his Byakugan and a quick scan of his wife confirmed her now chakra-less condition.
Chakra existed in all living things, but only the most highly developed Byakugan could detect it when it was untapped, as in civilians, most animals or plant life. Even he, a prodigy of his clan could only see the faintest traces of this dormant power and only if he focused all his attention on a single subject. It was a function of the Byakugan that was not terribly useful when you were less worried about the tree and more concerned about the deadly shinobi hiding behind it.
Years of training kept the panic at bay as Neji calmly felt for TenTen's pulse, reassuring himself that his wife was still very much alive even though his supposedly superior eyes told him that a lifeless corpse lay before him. To his bloodline limit, TenTen had no more life than the bed she lay on. Neji let his mundane sight take over, reassured that he could easily see, in true color, the shallow rise and fall of TenTen's chest.
When TenTen had not shown for dinner, Neji had not been overly concerned, after all she was a Jounin and had even been under consideration for ANBU, but he had been... disheartened. He had spent the afternoon rehearsing what he would say to her, how he would broach the subject of them sparring again so that he could start getting close to her like they had been in their genin days.
In all his nineteen years and with all that he had seen and been through, succumbing to teenaged angst over the state of his heart had not been a scenario that he had factored in for himself. Neji knew that he had not fooled anyone earlier this evening when he had volunteered to help Hisoka's parents locate the boy, and ergo his wife. It had simply been the excuse he had used to escape the Main House family's drawing room and the silent, and possibly pitying, stares of his cousins and uncle.
Giving in to the need to be closer, to assure himself that TenTen was alive, Neji slipped onto the bed next to her. His body was parallel to hers and looming such that he was leaning over her but not actually touching. Neji was supporting the weight of his upper body on his left elbow while his left hand slid under his wife's neck, his right hand busied itself freeing the rest of TenTen's hair from its partially unraveled buns.
As he worked, Neji was relieved to see the gradual return of normal color to TenTen's cheeks and hear the soft sighs that eased the pained sorrow from her features. Her head unconsciously rocked in concert with his fingers messaging her neck. This was not the first time Neji had been forced to unwind TenTen's hair for her because she was unable to do so for herself. Since he was the only other member of Team Gai that had long hair, it had understandably always fallen to him to oversee that particular aspect of TenTen's care when the kunoichi had been incapacitated. Not that he had ever complained, not even the first time with his cheeks burning with preteen embarrassment.
Neji had been accused on more than one occasion of being indifferent and hard, and he did not deny that he could be to those that he did not care about. Even to those that knew him, he had the reputation of being cool and aloof, but when he had seen TenTen's face crumble, when he witnessed the heartbreak deep within her unguarded eyes in the moments before she had passed out, Neji had felt his world fall apart.
Every word he said to TenTen tonight replayed in his head. From his greeting that was gruff with concern, to his structured and scripted speech about them spending time together sparing. Neji remembered gamely plunging forward and hiding his disappointment that even though she had been touching him it had been clear that his wife was not paying him much attention. He had been committed to finishing his pre-rehearsed speech, but then TenTen's mouth had done things that he was only just starting to allow himself to dream about, Neji's original intentions had been completely derailed.
All rational thought and control had drained out of him leaving a creature of pure sensation and need. Self awareness only made a slight return when he had realized he had transported them to their room and they were both most of the way to being unclothed. Neji remembered finally regaining his wits enough to warn TenTen that if they carried on a moment longer he would not be able to stop himself and the option of his wife annulling their marriage would be lost to her.
It had physically pained him to pull away from her when all he had wanted was to be closer. He had awaited her decision, his heart painfully tight in his chest fearing that her rejection had been forthcoming, but that selfish indulgence of self pity was nothing compared to the devastation he saw in his wife's eyes at his apparent rejection. By the time Neji realized that the thought of annulling their marriage had never crossed TenTen's mind, it was too late to take the words back. The one person in this world he could not bare to see in pain had been falling apart in front of him, because of him, and his unfortunate words.
At the sound of his name, Neji refocus from watching his fingers massaging TenTen's scalp to his wife's ladened and dark rimmed eyes. In that moment he hated himself for the weakness in his character that rejoiced at the open, hopeful and longing look his wife gave him. He wanted ... no, he needed to correct TenTen's misconceptions, but he had made quite a mess of things already and fumbling through an explanation when TenTen herself was too exhausted to even move would most likely only make things worse.
"Shhh, you need to rest," Neji intreated as he increased the pressure of his massage and added a caress to the nape of TenTen's neck with his other hand hoping to at lease physically show her how he felt knowing words were inadequate no matter how well they were crafted.
For a moment it seemed that she was going to comply with his request but after her eyes drifted closed again, Neji watched as tears leaked through her lashes.
"Please stop," TenTen choked out in a whisper. "It's just going to make it harder when you..."
TenTen abruptly cut herself short, her eyes squeezing tighter as if bracing for a blow she believed he would deliver to her heart. Neji paused only briefly, letting her distress washing over him before resuming his massage at her neck and hairline.
"No," Neji told her simply, coming to the realization that TenTen's confusion at his intentions most likely stemmed from his uncharacteristic indirect behavior as of late.
He watched as confusion wrinkled her forehead in a way that had become familiar to him in childhood. He waited until TenTen opened her eyes, the question 'Why' clearly written there.
"I will not stop, not today, not ever," Neji told her, holding her gaze and hoping that TenTen could see the sincerity that he felt. Hoping that she could hear the truth in what he had not said.
Neji could see words forming in his wife's unguarded eyes, but before she could voice them the door to their room was very quickly, if not quietly thrown open.
Neji would have been angry at his cousin's abrupt entry into his private room if it were not for the sincere worry etched across her horrified face, however he could be upset for the obvious reason behind Hinata's panic. His cousin was holding back another outburst with her trembling hand, but tears were traveling along the lines of her activated Byakugan before falling down the far sides of her cheeks as she stared at TenTen.
Although a part of him, admittedly a childish part, wanted to draw out Hinata's anxiety to teach her a lesson about 'eaves dropping' with her bloodline limit, but the real pain the Hyuuga heir displayed at TenTen's supposed death was too touching for Neji to let it carry on more than a few moments.
"She is fine, Hinata-sama," Neji assured his cousin as he turned back to look at his wife to find that she had unsurprisingly fallen back into unconsciousness.
"But they said she had used too much chakra, and Shikamaru-kun said that she was dying he could feel feel it, and he looked so terrible I had believe him, and then when I... when I..."
Hinata could not finish her sentence as half-choked sobs stole her words. Not that she had made much sense thus far. When Neji turned back to his cousin to have her explain herself, Neji found Temari supporting a very pale, very wane Nara Shikamaru just inside the doorway. The ANBU captain was clutching at his chest with his free hand and his breathing was unnaturally fast and shallow. Neji was so focused on Shikamaru that he did not notice his other visitor until she spoke.
"Well, it looks like that experimental jutsu you bravely and stupidly used not only responds to physical pain and stress but emotional as well," the Fifth Hokage snorted, her hands glowing green where she was touching her top ANBU's back.
"Great..." Shikamaru panted weakly, his seemingly indifferent eyes staring fixedly at TenTen, as if he could not look away. "Now every time they have I fight, I have a stroke."
"Then you better hope he's a better husband than you're a boyfriend or you're going to be spending a lot of time in the hospital," Temari joked lightly, though her own expression showed her concern.
Without asking permission, the Sand-nin helped her lover sit at the foot of the bed closest to TenTen's feet. Before Neji could protest, Shikamaru place his hand on the unconscious woman's ankle, chakra flowed out of the Shadow Wielder and into the Weapon's Mistress as if it had belonged there in the first place.
Instead of the loss of life force draining Shikamaru, it seemed to help him, allowing the Nara to draw in a deep breath. Though he was relieved to feel TenTen's own breathing deepen to a more natural pattern, it irked him to acknowledge that it was his Captain's chakra that his wife's body had reacted so hungrily to.
"I do not care whom does it, but someone is going to explain to me what is going on, and they are going to do it now," Neji demanded.
An explanation was forth coming, though it came in fits and spurts as Shikamaru began the tale only to have Temari interrupt to add embellishment for the sections that she felt her boyfriend had left too vague or boring. The fact that the explanation involved TenTen and Shikamaru's mission together was not altogether a surprise.
"So you are telling me that now because of this jutsu, you and my wife," Neji paused to put emphasis on his relation to TenTen, "are permanently connected to each other."
"It's more like TenTen's his parasitic twin with an alarm system."
"Temari," Shikamaru growled in annoyance, as if this was not the first time she had teased him.
"Look, if I gotta share ya with someone, I'd rather it be her than that blonde b..."
"I was going to say 'bombshell'. I was going to say 'bombshell'."
"Sure you were."
During the story telling, Hinata had left long enough to inform her father what was happening before returning with the Hyuuga leader in tow. Now his cousin was perched on one corner of the bed with a disgustingly dreamy smile as if she found all this terribly romantic, while his uncle looked on stoically, as of yet, offering no comment. Lady Tsunade had not said a word either, apparently ignoring all of them in favor of looking after her patient. After Neji had demanded his answers, the Hokage had chased him out of the bed so that she could more effectively tend to TenTen.
"Well, I have good and bad news," Tsunade-sama announced as she drew the covers up to TenTen's chin.
"And the bad new is..." Shikamaru prompted obviously weary of all the excitement and attention.
"Your chakra has been harmonized with TenTen's. In effect, the two of you are now as if you were alway, as Temari stated earlier, twins, and it's permanent."
Neji noticed Haishi-sama's eyes lose there unaffected glaze, and for a moment he swore he saw regret.
"Congratulations," Temari chirped with a smirk,"you just became a little brother."
"And the good news?" Hinata cut in before a lovers' quarrel could get started.
"I've made it so that the connection now flows both ways," Lady Tsunade told them crossing her arms and setting her shoulders seemingly preparing for a fight.
"Meaning she'll now feel the Nara's pain?" Neji questioned, realizing the implications immediately.
"Change it back," the Shikamaru demanded. "It's pointless for both of us to be stuck like this.
Although Neji was not enamored with the idea of TenTen being physically linked with his commanding officer like his cousin seemed to be judging by the goofy smile she was wearing, Neji was pleased that Shikamaru's first thought was for TenTen's well being.
"No, it's better this way," Tsunade-sama informed them with authority. "I know you haven't admitted it, Shikamaru, but when you have been away from TenTen you can feel your chakra draining from you, reaching out to find her. You've been lucky so far that something like this hasn't happened while you were out on a mission. As it was, I knew that I couldn't send the both of you out on missions at the same time, because that experimental jutsu would have always chosen TenTen's life over yours, and you know that."
When Shikamaru cut his eyes away and refused to comment, Neji knew that the Hokage spoke true. The smile slipped from Temari's face and she gave her lover an accusatory glare.
"You didn't tell me that."
"There's nothing to tell," Shikamaru softly defended. "There wouldn't be an assignment conflict because she accepted a nice quiet genin squad assignment."
"Yes, a Konoha genin squad. Always known to be safe and trouble free for the instructors," Lady Tsunade said pointedly as she openly stared at the bladed knuckles that were always strapped to Shikamaru's hip.
The Nara's only acknowledgment of the female Hokage's words was a clenching of his jaw.
"If the connection is as if they were true twins," Lord Hiashi said softly into the ensuing silence, "then the only suffering they would endure is the inability to affect the other when they are fully aware that the other is in danger."
Neji was not sure how much Shikamaru and Temari knew of the Hyuuga clan history, but he and Hinata were intimately aware of all the dark secrets between their fathers. This was the first time Neji had known his uncle to admit such tender emotion in front of anyone. Even if it was only in mild and vague references to being a twin himself.
"Unless the chakra connection between twins is knowingly fostered and encouraged to grow it will never go beyond a slight awareness in the back of their consciousness, in the same way one knows that someone is watching them, and when it is gone there is just yawning silence. Am I correct, Tsunade-sama?"
The Fifth Hokage kindly smiled and nodded her head in agreement.
"So if before now that jutsu only worked in one direction, from Shikamaru-kun to TenTen-san, why was she so drained of chakra to begin with?" Hinata reasoned aloud, earning her a pleased smile from her father for her clear and present thinking.
"Yes, is there reason to be concerned for my new niece's health?" Lord Hiashi questioned for himself.
"That information is presently classified," Lady Tsunade told them briskly.
"Even to her husband?" Neji demanded to know, coming to stand directly in the Hokage's line of sight.
"Until this evening it wasn't known if there was anything to be classified, but now that I've had confirmation from Kakashi that the Fourth Hokage's findings were indeed correct, this matter is a need-to-know situation."
Even though he narrowed his eyes in anger at their Hokage's dismissal, Neji saw Shikamaru open his mouth to argue. Undoubtedly wanting to remind Lady Tsunade that as her top ANBU there was nothing that was classified above his rank.
"You will be briefed in the morning once you have regained your strength," Tsunade-sama corrected swiftly before addressing the Hyuuga lord directly.
"In regards to this matter I am requesting all of your brother's field notebooks and mission logs. I believe they were allowed to remain at his home instead of being stored at the tower after his death?"
"This is correct, Hokage-sama," Hiashi-sama confirmed without betraying any of his thoughts on the situation.
"Good, I want them to be delivered to my office by tomorrow morning. Although the Fourth had excellent records it's possible that your brother observed something working with Minato that will be useful," the only remaining Sannin told his uncle.
Finding out that his father had been involved with research concerning TenTen under the Fourth Hokage's direction was a shock to himself and Hinata, but Lord Hiashi did not seem surprised in the least.
"My brother's field notebooks and mission logs are yours to take as you please Hokage-sama."
Neji caught the way his uncle had worded that statement with precise clarification of what would be given to the ageless woman in front of him, and by the way Lady Tsunade smirked she seemed quite pleased that he had.
"Now that that has been done, I need to check up on TenTen's poor student. If she's in this shape I can't imagine how the child is."
Tsunade-sama wrapped a hand around Shikamaru's arm and manhandled him into an upright position and gave instructions to Temari to take care of the protesting Shadow-nin. She then turned to Hinata and told her to keep a watch on TenTen and alert her if the Weapon's Mistress's chakra did not steadily rise over the next few hours. With a final long appraisal of Neji which she ended with an encouraging smile, the Fifth Hokage walked out the door helping to drag her reluctant ANBU Captain with her.
"Come with me Neji," Hiashi-sama commanded as his left the room following the Hokage's wake.
Neji paused to not only retrieve his shirt that was still laying on the floor where TenTen had pushed it off his shoulders, but to assure himself that his wife was well taken care of in his absence. Hinata's Byakugan was active as she watched TenTen sleep, the other kunoichi's weapon toughened hand in her own. Hinata looked up briefly to give Neji a warm smile before returning to the task the Hokage did not have to order her to do.
Neji was fully dressed by the time he caught up with the Hyuuga leader as the older man progressed through the compound. There was really only one place Neji's father's field notebooks and mission logs would be stored and that would be the clan archive. The archive was in a well guarded room within the clan's library, only the archivist and the current clan leader were allowed to enter, but much to the astonishment of the guards and Neji himself, when Neji and his uncle arrived at the doors, Hiashi-sama summoned him to enter.
The room was unremarkable. Floor to celling shelves in multiple rows, populated with locked cabinet like doors, each half a meter by half a meter in size. There seemed to be a numbering system and a filing system in the middle of the room, but Hiashi-sama did not seem to need either. He walked with assurance to a box three rows in and to the left. His uncle drew a key from around his neck, the leather cord shiny and smooth with constant ware against skin.
The box he opened was slightly lower than waist height, and when the door swung wide, Neji had a clear view of its entire contents. There were a few scrolls of a pictorial nature as indicated by the small plaques on them. A single childhood toy, a colorful spinning top, lay to the one side, and beside it two stacks of leather bound books. Of the items in the box, only the toy and the smaller stack of books had no evidence of dust.
Lord Hiashi picked up first the stack of journals that were dusted a faint gray and swiftly deposited them into Neji's surprised arms, the next stack his uncle lifted carefully from there resting place and laid the clean, maroon colored, soft covered books on top of the pile already in his hands.
"These should be what the Hokage is looking for, but review them all to make sure that only the field notebooks and mission logs are given," Lord Hiashi instructed as he turned away to re-lock the cabinet door. "I will log out the journals to the Hokage's care."
At his uncles obvious dismissal, Neji bowed slightly and exited the room. The guards turned towards him to detain him, but Hiashi-sama's voice from within the archive stopped them. Without looking back, Neji made a swift retreat to his room. Now more than ever he was convinced that there was something both the Hokage and his uncle wanted him to know that they could not tell him themselves.
When Neji entered his room he immediately noticed that Hinata had placed TenTen in her sleeping attire and had braided her new cousin's hair into a long plait over TenTen's shoulder. His cousin looked up at his entry but made no comment, her Byakugan still active and monitoring TenTen's chakra.
Neji only responded with a nod, before making his way to the table. He set down the stack he carried but he immediately separated the books into their obvious types. The journals that had been covered in dust, even inside the locked cabinet, were stiff with disuse and contained brief and to the point descriptions of missions in precise neat handwriting. The other stack was the exact opposite.
While it was clear that the same person, his father, wrote both sets, the second group was worn and well taken care of. Instead of a pen, these journals were in ink and brush, and did not seem to have a set style of writing. There were one line entries, poems and songs, and even small drawings. As Neji flipped through, he noticed that his father had stuffed photographs in-between some of the pages.
Neji did not realize that his father had kept a diary, because it was immediately apparent that this is what these journals were. Age wise, both stacks of books appeared to go back to the start of his father's genin squad, but the mission journals stopped approximately a year after Neji's birth, while the diaries ended on the night of his father's death.
Where to start?
The obvious answer was 'the beginning', but what beginning? Again the answer was transparent, TenTen's beginning. Neji went through the mission journals focusing on the year and month of his wife's birth, however he was surprised to find a record on the exact date.
March 9 - I have been assigned a task by the Fourth Hokage to assess and secure a target of personal interest to Minato-sama. This will fall outside of my regular duties and assignments, and holds first priority at moments of conflicting interest.
The entry was brief and held no pertinent information. Having TenTen be coldly labeled as a 'target' to be assessed and secured made Neji's stomach feel like lead. Knowing that there had to be more than just this, Neji went to his father's diary and found not only a corresponding entry, but a photo as well.
The picture showed his father in traditional Hyuuga meditation robes rarely worn outside the compound, holding a bundled infant. His father smiled indulgently to the camera as if he were humoring the one taking the photo. On the back of the picture Neji found the date and TenTen's complete given birth name (a name Neji had only heard once at their wedding, and was the mouthful TenTen alway claimed it to be) written in a hand that was not his father's. The diary entry seemed to be hastily written but was clear and easy to read.
March 9 - We almost did not make it to the hospital in time. Kenta was a mess, unable to even find his way around the halls without my help. I can only hope that I will not be so out of sorts once my own child arrives. As it is, I can understand why my friend is in this state. The birth was almost two months early, but more surprising than little TenTen's dramatic entrance was whom was waiting for us when we arrived at the hospital. How Kenta could have not noticed Minato-sama with his bright blonde hair and that hideous orange coat is a mystery to me, but my friend simply barged on by without a backwards glance, leaving me to deal with the Hokage myself. To think that Lord Minato had been anticipating my goddaughter's birth with almost as much anticipation as Kenta is incredible. I do not know if all that the Fourth said will actually come to pass, but I must admit there is something different about the girl. It is not obvious, and if I had not been specifically instructed on what to look for I would have missed it. For now I have been assigned the most pleasant assignment of 'keeping an eye' on little TenTen. Kenta refuses to call his baby that, but what other name would you give a child that giggles at birth. He may protest for now but we both know that I usually get my way. The only thing that is missing is Mei, but it is for the best, for I do not believe that I could share this moment with her and not break.
Confusion made Neji's head ache. Who was Mei and why did is father write about her with such emotion? Kenta's name Neji recognized from the betrothal and marriage documents, but he had not realized his wife's father and his own were so close, and had been close for what sounded like a long time. Neji never remembered his father mentioning Kenta by name or this 'Mai', but his father had often referred to a friend from his genin squad. Neji now recalled those memories and viewed them with an adult's eye and through the lens of this new information.
Neji now realized that his father had always spoken of his friend and his genin squad with not only pride and happiness but with pain and longing. As a child, he had never understood why his father did not wish to talk about his shinobi life more, since he seemed to have such fond memories. Now Neji wondered what had caused his father to so completely separate himself from his childhood friends. Though the question was burning in him to find out, his current mission was to find out more about his wife, not his father. Knowing that his father's assignment logs would have very little detail that he would find of interest, Neji opted to leaf through the dairies instead.
Over the next four months of entries, TenTen's name was peppered in with accounts of Hyuuga family life. Mostly it consisted of remarking on Neji's wife's rapid development despite her premature birth. It wasn't until he came to another entry marked with a photograph that Neji stopped to read carefully.
July 10 - I have finally managed to sneak Neji out of the compound. It is nice to know that my ninja skills have not completely deteriorated with all the D and C class missions Hiashi has limited me to. Kenta was inordinately pleased with Neji. He seemed quite relived that his godson was not a 'girly' Hyuuga, but was disappointed that my son was displeased with being tossed around. I do not believe that Kenta realizes that Neji is only a week old and can not yet tolerate the rough handling that his own TenTen has come to crave. It also appears that Kenta has been working on having TenTen say my name. My only hope is that she will grow out of calling me ZaZa at some point. My goddaughter did not seem as impressed by Neji as her father. She was, however, distressed when he cried out, patting my arm repeatedly until I got him to quiet down. She also did not seem to have a problem sharing her crib with him. Kenta joked that he should demand that we draw up betrothal paper now that our children have slept together. I do not think my friend realizes how much it pains me to even consider doing that to my own son. I have no doubt Kenta will raise his daughter to be a fine woman, but the choice of marriage should be our children's not our own.
The picture tucked in with the entry was of two children in the same bed. One was an infant only a week old sleeping on his back, and the other, a four month old toddler sitting with her hand on the black fuzzy fluff on the boy's head and her thumb lodged firmly in her mouth.
Neji had to put down the dairy to process what he had read. His father had not wanted to betroth him. Then how did the betrothal come about? Neji suddenly had a sobering thought. What if the betrothal was a fake? No one had seemed to know about it until just a few months ago. How could that be possible in a clan like the Hyuuga? Could it be all a lie? To what end?
The obvious answer was that the Main Branch wanted his children, but he had seen the documents, and though it was not impossible to fake them, Neji had been trained in identifying forgeries from originals. Even though the betrothal was sloppy and hastily put together (something that the Main Branch would not have allowed) it was authentic, he was sure of it.
Then why had his father changed his mind at the last minute, signing his son's future away in the hours before his death? Neji hoped to find the answer in his father's diary.
Neji looked up to find his cousin hovering in the doorway.
"TenTen-san will be fine. Her chakra is building smoothly, but if you want me to..."
"That is alright, Hinata-sama," Neji looked over to his sleeping wife before adding, "I thank you for your help."
He thought that his cousin would take his words as the dismissal they were, but when he looked back, she still hovered in the doorway picking absently at an invisible splinter in the door frame.
"Is there something else?" he asked.
"You know that I would have never... I mean to say that, I did not mean to see...If Lady Tsunade had not..."
"It is alright," Neji assured her when he realized Hinata was trying to apologize for using her Byakugan to see into his bedroom. "Just do not do it again."
"I won't," she started then amended, "That is, unless I need to. Not that I think that I will need to," Hinata hastily added, her blush turning redder by the moment, "but I do not want to say that I will not if I have to because..."
"I think I understand," Neji told her with a smile that his cousin returned.
"Good... I mean thank you, and good night."
Hinata slid the door shut behind her when she left, leaving Neji to continue his search. In retrospect it probably would have been a good idea to have had his cousin help. Hinata was a much faster reader than he was, and a task shared was a job halved, but it did not feel right allowing others to read his father's dairies even though it appeared that someone had been reading them recently if the lack of dust was any indication.
Neji flipped through the pages, looking for any mention of TenTen's or her father's name. He had not found any in the months directing following the last entry he had read, but a page that had been ripped from the book and then placed back in caught his attention.
Nov 29 - I did not even know that Mia was pregnant let alone that she is now a mother. Other than his black hair he looks nothing like Mia. As much as I want to hate the boy, I cannot. Because part of him is her. However, I can hate the Elders for him not being mine and for Neji not being hers.
It seemed to Neji that he had found the reason for his father's intense dislike for betrothals. He had never been under the illusion that his parents were a love match, and other than when his father's body had been brought back home, Neji could not remember spending an entire day with his mother. Neji again wonder who this woman was that his father had lost.
Neji resumed his search, finding references to TenTen's early childhood through the eyes of his father. He read about her hair being put up into pigtails for the first time, and about the two of them as toddlers playing in mud and covering themselves so completely that his father had almost taken the wrong child home with him. There were even references to the Fourth Hokage making repeated appearances to reconfirm his early suspicions, but the references where alway vague. Finally Neji found a more substantial entry.
July 30 - Minato-sama brought Kushina to see TenTen today. I am not sure if I have ever seen a Hokage so throughly browbeaten in my life. The poor man let it slip that he hoped to use TenTen's abilities to help strengthen the Nine-tails seal. The Hokage's wife yelled at her husband for using a child for his own gain, not giving him a chance to explain. It was quite amusing to see little TenTen come to the Fourth's defense, arguing with infant talk to the full grown pregnant woman that argued right back. In the end the two girls made friends. Lord Minato believes that the dirty fingerprints TenTen placed all over his wife's round stomach are an advanced fuinjutsu enhancement and Kushina agreed with him. Neither Kenta or I can see how an 13 month old could have that kind of ability, but the Fourth was quick to point out that she should not be able to summon objects without a foci either. He says that it is her tri-elemental affinity that not only gives her summoning, but also gives her the insight like an Uchiha but she is not limited to physical sight or time. Just as the Hokage has the ability to see hidden bloodlimits and special abilities even if they are not being used, TenTen can see untapped potential and techniques that have not even been thought of yet. He feels that soon he will need to start taking an active roll in TenTen's training, but he wants to wait until after his baby is born. Neither Kenta or I are looking forward to that day. Neither one of us are of a high enough skill level to participate in her training without raising questions the Hokage does not want asked just yet. If it was known that a child like TenTen existed, she would be hunted for the secret of her abilities like children that possess kekkei genkai. The longer my goddaughter remains a secret the safer she will be.
The more Neji read the more confused he became. His father wrote of abilities he had never seen TenTen display. While undoubtably her weapon scrolls were unique in their complexity, it was not a technique that was completely uncommon. Any ninja with half decent ninjutsu could hold equipment within a foci, but summoning something, anything, without one? It just was not possible and neither was a tri-elemental affinity, but his father spoke of both in direct reference to TenTen.
The only part of what Neji had read that rang true was TenTen's uncanny ability to know how to make a jutsu work, even if she could not perform the technique herself. He had spent years watching her give off hand comments and suggestions that always seem to be exactly what needed to be done. Oft times the receiver of her advice did not even realize that she had given them the key to their success. He himself had been blind to it until his uncle had pointed out that even if he was a prodigy he should have never progressed to his level and gained a unique jutsu.
Neji started furiously flipping through the journal. There had to be an explanation for the difference between what TenTen had been and what she had become. Had her abilities dwindled out after adolescence? Did the Fourth Hokage die before she could be trained and her powers atrophied? Why had no one continued to at least try and help her learn to use what she was born with?
Neji stopped at an entry written in an unsteady hand.
Oct 11 - The Fourth Hokage is dead and with him any hope of TenTen learning to use her abilities. I was one of the few that saw saw Uzumaki Naruto when he was returned to the village and the seal that had been placed upon him, the seal that TenTen had helped Kushina and the Hokage create. I have foolishly made an oath to Minato-sama that I am honor bound to complete. When my goddaughter was born I promised the Hokage that I would do everything within my power to hide TenTen from the world if anything should happen to him. He feared that without his presence and protection, TenTen would be too tempting a target for another village to resist. Now I must go to that child that trusts me and take away her birthright. I must use that God forsaken jutsu that was taught only to me as the second born, lesser son. I must lock away TenTen's abilities by permanently blocking the extra chakra pathways she possesses. After I am done I can never see her or Kenta again. I know my friend understands the gravity of what is about to happen, but I will never forgive myself for what I am about to do.
His father had been the one, his father had been the reason TenTen appeared to be a regular shinobi. The pieces were clicking together one by one and Neji did not like the picture that was coming to light. Undoubtedly it was the information Neji had just read that the Hokage had been looking for. If it had been a Hyuuga technique that had sealed TenTen's abilities then they could be another that would release her.
But what would he, should he, do with this new information? Was it even new? Obviously someone had been reading his father's journals and the only ones with access where the archivist and his uncle.
Although one of Neji's questions had been answered the another one remained. How had he become betrothed to his wife? The remainder of the diary had few entries, only two held any interest. One spoke of his fathers ever growing disgust with his lot in life and the other told Neji quite plainly his answer.
Aug 3 - I should not have gone to see her. Maybe if I had not gone I would not have lost my composure in front of Lord Hiashi, and Neji would not have witnessed my shame. All I wanted to do was to escape the clan for a little while, to remember what a life outside of this place was like. TenTen was alone in her yard, all her dolls tossed aside in favor of her wooden kunai and swords. She was exactly as the Fourth had predicted she would be and because of me she will never be anything more than a simple shinobi. If only the Nine Tail attack had not happened. If only Minato-sama had not died. Under the Fourth's tutelage she could have been as advanced as Hatake Kakashi by now. Instead she is being hidden away, like my son, while undeserving creatures like my niece are given every opportunity and privilege. I did not realize I had been seen by my goddaughter until I heard her call my name. She still remembers her ZaZa, but I did not answer her. I could not break the oath that I have made and I cannot face her. How I hate this place and what it is doing to me and Neji and TenTen, and there is no escape for any of us now.
Nov 23 - I sit here and watch my son sleep and I wonder if he will ever forgive me. I have made two decisions; one that takes away power from my brother and the other from my Neji. Haishi does not yet know that I have agreed with the elders to take by brother's place, and until TenTen comes of age, Neji will not know that I have taken the choice of bride from him. I know that it is selfishness that has driven me to sacrifice myself to the Cloud ninja. I have decided to choose my own destiny even though I know that it will hurt the ones that I love most. In a way the second decision is just as selfish as the first. Betrothing Neji to TenTen will allow Kenta to have a say in my son's life. Even though I tricked Kenta into signing the papers I know he will honor them and he will look after Neji when I am gone. My friend is unlikely to remember our last night together due to the alcohol that I poured into him, but I cannot allow him to know what I am about to do. If TenTen is anything like her father and Neji wins her loyalty I know that she will never let him falter. I go now to my destiny and I can only hope that fate is kinder to my son than it has been to me.
Closing the diary Neji looked over to his wife. TenTen had moved onto her side facing him. Her face was more relaxed than it had been earlier and with her knees drawn up towards her chest she seemed so much younger than nineteen.
His father had betrothed him to TenTen in the hopes that her father, Kenta, would take care of him after his father's death and instead it had been his daughter that had saved him from himself.
Neji left the table, extinguished the only light in the room and made his way to the bed. He removed his shirt before slipping in behind his wife, moulding his larger body around TenTen, unsurprised that it was a perfect fit.
"Neji? Is that you?"
He smiled at the sleepy question before replying.
"Yes, it is me."
"Hmm, ok." She was still for moment and Neji thought that she might have fallen back to sleep, but instead she curled her fist into his hand in front of her before speaking again. "Ask your question."
"What makes you think I have a question?" Neji asked even though she was correct.
"I can hear it rattling around inside your head," she hummed, sounding more asleep than awake.
It warmed Neji's soul to hear TenTen return to a familiar banter they had enjoyed as children. On nights they had laid next to each other, her relaxing into sleep due to her complete trust in her sansei to protect her, and him wrestling with questions filled with anger and resentment keeping him awake, she would always make him ask those haunting questions. Even though she had rarely been able to answer them, mainly because they had been the kind of questions that could not be answered, Neji had released the responsibility of keeping them all inside by sharing them with her. This time, however, the question had the probability of causing her more pain than himself.
"TenTen tell me what happened to your father," Neji found himself asking as he stared over to the table and the pile of books there.
"My father?" TenTen asked sounding confused, but no more awake than before. When he nodded against her neck she sighed before answering.
"The night he left I remember him coming to my room and waking me up." She laughed softly then snuggling closer and bringing their joined hands into her chest. "He told me that my imaginary friend had gotten lost and he was going to bring him home with him. I don't know why he told me that. I hadn't thought of ZaZa in years.
Neji tightened his hold on TenTen, closing his eyes and waiting for the enevitable conclusion to his wife's story.
"In the morning when I woke up," TenTen continued, "my mother told me that he had gone on a solo mission to retrieve a missing ninja and that he had been badly injured. We went to the hospital, but he was in a coma. He never woke up. I remember how angry my mother was at him. Even years after he was gone she would yell at him for dying, for bring back a dead body instead of leaving it where he had found it. Why do you ask?"
"I'll tell you in the morning," Neji softly forced out, afraid that if he spoke any louder she would hear the emotion in his voice.
Her father had died, bring his father's copse back to his family. Neji remembered the larger man that had come to the Hyuuga compound, covered in blood that he had assumed at the time was his father's. Even though he had been too angry and grief stricken at the time to notice, that man had been the only one to express his condolences directly to Neji and he had been the only one his uncle had spoken to that night. Thanking him for his efforts.
Neji was not given long to reflect upon those old memories as TenTen scooted and wiggled until she was laying on her back looking over at him.
"I don't think I like this new Neji," she confessed, her droopy eyes trying to draw together in a scowl that had no heat.
"Is the 'new' Neji that much different than the old one?" he asked unable to keep the grin from his face at her pout.
"Yes", she said initially before frowning deeper, "and no."
Neji did laugh then, sweeping the bangs from her forehead so that he could place a kiss there.
"Spoken like a true Hyuuga," he told her, tracing her blushing cheekbone with his thumb.
"But I'm not a Hyuuga," she said looking away.
"No, you are not," Neji agreed, forcing TenTen's gaze back to his with gentle pressure to her chin. "Not yet anyway."
Neji could see that TenTen understood the silent question he asked. She smiled at him, using a hand at his shoulder to draw him closer to her.
"Not yet," she agreed, not sounding the least bit tired as she sealed her lips with his.
That night Neji claimed the last gift his father had given him.
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