A/N: This started off as one thing and ended up in a completely different place. I sort of got stuck and then I started working on Cage of Shadows, so this one is on the back-burner for now, but maybe getting reviews will help me get unstuck *hint hint*.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of the characters used in this story.
White Eye, Gentle Fist
They came out of nowhere, an impossibly big party. They shouldn't be here. There was fighting all around, but to her a deathly silence hung in the air. The clearing suddenly seemed impossibly small and dark. No, she screamed inwardly. She watched in disbelief as her companions were overpowered. This is impossible. She knew their strength, their speed, this couldn't be happening. As suddenly as it had all begun, it seemed to end. The remaining ninjas surrounded her, and for the first time in her life she was truly afraid. Close-range combat was not her style, but still, if death was looming she'd take a few of the enemy with her, she decided, grimly bracing her slim form for battle. She glanced quickly around, looking for a defensible position, but her eyes lighted on the inert form of one of her companions, blood flowing thickly from numerous wounds.
Wildly, she looked around for her sensei, at last spotting his
green-clad form at the far side of the clearing. He was badly injured
but still seemed to be trying to fight, struggling to his feet. His
lips were moving, agony in his eyes. What
is it sensei?
She tried to hear him, but her senses were completely unresponsive.
Sensei seemed almost … afraid. But that couldn't be. He was never
afraid. His lips moved in another silent scream. This time she could
make out that he was shouting her name.
He was afraid … for her?
that instant, she realized that she had become overly dependent on
her teammates and their
close -range combat styles. It left her free to send her weapons into any battle with deadly accuracy … but from a distance …, she knew she had very little chance of defeating all of the men now surrounding her, closing in, grinning horribly. Shivers ran down her spine. The fear became more cloying …. What are you afraid of? Not death surely. She'd been too caught up in the plight of her companions and realized too late that the enemy had circled around her. Damn, she thought. Fear froze her into position, as she realized that this time no help would be forthcoming.
He wasn't there, wouldn't attack, allowing her to gain enough distance to launch her weapons. She turned, readying her weapons, but before she'd so much as lifted her arm for the first shuriken throw, blackness descended. As she slowly spiraled into the encroaching darkness, she saw her sensei scream again, she felt hands on her body, rough hands grabbing her hair, sound returned and she felt their laughter. Her last conscious thought was for him. Before the she finally succumbed to the release of unconsciousness, sound returned and she heard sensei screaming her name. I'm sorry I wasn't stronger ….
Neji walked slowly through the Hyuuga compound, allowing the confusion of daily activities to wash over his tired senses, completely oblivious to the sensation he was causing. Curious eyes followed the tall, dark-haired man as he slowly made his way down the street. He couldn't remember ever feeling this tired. Back-to-back missions had drained every last bit of his energy. But before he went home for the longest sleep of his life, he wanted to find his old team. He'd missed them. He frowned. No, that wasn't quite right, he didn't care enough about anyone or anything to miss them. But … lately his thoughts had strayed more and more often to the past. It wasn't the same, going on missions with strangers.
irritated him to have to deal with people who didn't know him
exactly. Who hadn't grown up with him, hadn't grown stronger with
him. Actually, if he was totally honest with himself, he'd missed
Tenten. He sighed. And now when he wanted to see the damn woman, a fact he still had trouble admitting to himself, she was nowhere to be found. He slowly made his way to the main gate. Perhaps they'd gone on a mission?
he neared the entrance to the village, something tugged at his
senses. Frowning, he examined the feeling. Almost … as if danger
was lurking. He shook his head - he must be more tired than he'd
thought. The two chuunin guards came into view and he felt the
familiar irritation as they caught sight of him and immediately
assumed respectful attitudes. Really,
he thought irritation mounting by the second, you'd
think they'd be used to jounin freshly returned from missions.
"Morning," he greeted them shortly. "Good morning, Neji-san" they chorused.
"Have Gai-sensei, Tenten and Lee passed this way today?" he queried, aware he was being unnecessarily rude and not really caring. "No, Neji-san, they left two days ago on a mission," one of the guards answered uneasily. The other was not doing a good job of hiding his intimidation.
This was exactly why he preferred his old team, they weren't intimidated or impressed by him anymore. Familiarity breeds contempt after all, he thought wryly.
"Thank you." As Neji turned, the niggling feeling of impending disaster was again uppermost on his mind. Why? Why am I feeling like this? A flash of green at the very edge of his vision had him spinning around, and the two chuunin jumped back in shock. Without sparing them a glance, Neji walked forward slowly, focusing on the spot where he thought he'd seen movement. Slowly, a figure came into view in the distance, limping badly, almost crawling, really. No, it can't be, Neji slowly shook his head. A genjutsu? But as the figure drew closer, he realized it was no mistake.
"Gai-sensei" Neji breathed, as he saw that it really was his erstwhile teacher making his way, step by painful step, to the village gate. In a puff of smoke, Neji was gone, startling the two chuunin guards. Neji had reappeared almost instantly at the side of his former master. "Gai-sensei …" the uncertainty in his voice had him cringing inwardly. Damnit, he was never unsure! Gai raised his head and stared uncomprehendingly at Neji.
"Gai-sensei!" Neji said more forcefully. He knelt down next to the barely conscious man, taking in the full extent of his injuries. "Gai-sensei, can you stand? We have to get you to the hospital." Gai stared at Neji for a while before recognition dawned on his face.
"Come on, put your arm around my shoulder." As Neji lifted Gai he saw that the chuunin guards had finally realized that something was amiss. People were running toward them. He turned and helped Gai toward them slowly, in deference to the other's injuries. The group reached the two men and Neji recognized medical personnel with a sigh of relief. He gladly handed the older man over to their capable care. Gai finally seemed to realize that he'd made it home to Konoha and as the medical personnel surrounded him, he clutched frantically at Neji's sleeve.
…. Lee …. we … ambushed …. injured …. clearing … half …
day away …." he gasped, sweat shining on his brow with the
effort. Noting the urgency in Gai's tone, Neji waved a hand to
stall the medical attendants.
"Gai-sensei, is Lee still back there?" he asked calmly.
"Yes …. that … way," Gai gasped in pain as he lifted an arm to indicate the direction. "Tenten … forgive me …. we tried … too many … too … strong" the expression in Gai's eyes filled Neji with dread.
"Is she …" he couldn't get the word out.
"Don't … know … they … took … I tried …to check … maybe … alive… " the sentence seemed to drain the last of Gai's strength and he sank to the ground in a dead faint.
"Take care of him" Neji snapped at the astonished medical personnel. So that was the strange premonition he'd been feeling all day.
Dead tired and out of chakra as he was, he immediately turned in the
direction Gai had pointed. What had happened?
"Neji-san, you cannot go, you need rest and … " the chuunin guard's voice trailed away when Neji's cold, pearly eyes met his. "Inform the Hokage," he ordered, not even bothering to acknowledge the man's statement.
"Tell her to send medical-nin and reinforcements as soon as possible. I don't know what's waiting for me back there." Neji leaped onto the nearest branch, various scenarios still playing in his head. One thing was certain. Something terrible must have happened to his former teammates, he'd never seen Gai-sensei in such a state. Tenten. He sped up despite his exhaustion, energy coming out of seemingly nowhere. This is very stupid, you're out of chakra, what are you going to be able to accomplish? Sanity broke through the worry, but Neji sped up regardless. Nothing mattered to him at this moment except making sure she was safe.
He leaped from branch to branch with a speed that belied his tiredness, unfamiliar fear spreading through his body with each step. Horrors spun in front of his eyes. Stop damnit! You're not helping anyone by letting your imagination run away with you! The time passed slowly, despite the speed at which he was travelling.
earlier than expected he began to detect signs of a battle.
Two hours away from Konoha, if that. So close, he calculated grimly. Gai's injuries had slowed him down; in his pain-fuddled state the distance had seemed much greater than it actually was. Still, that Gai-sensei had made it at all was a feat worth admiring.
the signs of a battle became more pronounced, he slowed down, molding
the little chakra he'd managed to drag from nowhere. Clearing,
dead ahead, he
thought grimly as it came into view. Moving carefully, he scanned his
surroundings, but could not see any enemy chakra signatures. He moved
into the clearing, abandoning stealth, there was no one here.
As the entire space came into view, he saw Lee lying prostrate on the ground at the other end of the clearing. Gai had obviously tried to do what he could for his favourite student. Lee's head was cushioned on his pack and his limbs had been straightened. He was bleeding badly, unconscious, but at the moment there was nothing Neji could do for his friend. Moving him might do more harm than good. Lee would have to wait for the medical-nin. He bent over Lee, checking his pulse. Faint, but there.
Neji sighed. "Hold on, Lee," he murmured softly.
He straightened up, checking his surroundings carefully again, but still no sign of her. I swear if Gai left her lying in a clump of bushes to tend to Lee with his last strength, I will kill him, he thought with an surge of savage anger. As quickly as the anger had come it disappeared, he knew that Gai would have done what he could for Tenten. If Lee's in this state, I doubt Tenten would be able to reply even if I did call her name, he concluded wearily. As he turned, he caught sight of her weapons scroll lying near a clump of bushes.
Walking grimly forward, he prepared himself for the possibility of her cold body lying behind the foliage. Gritting his teeth, Neji rounded the clump, looking around for any sign of Tenten. There were markings on the ground, as if a body had been dragged along. Following the tracks, Neji rounded a tree, nearly tripping over something lying in the gloom at the base of the tree. Tenten! His heart leapt, but it was merely a piece of pink cloth. A very familiar piece of pink cloth. This is … her shirt? he thought in confusion. Making his way forward he saw more pieces of clothing on the ground. His heart sped up, his breathing shallow, as a terrible suspicion began to form in his mind.
No … no … not her. Please, God, not her. Not that. He pleaded mentally, not even trying to deny his uncharacteristic fear anymore. He rounded another tree and despite the dawning horror of his suspicions, he was unprepared for the sight of her naked body lying abandoned beneath another big, old tree.