Notes: Excuse the slight lateness. Happy New Year! Hope you like it. ;)
Neji stands, still, on top of the branch, as immobile as the numerous trees around him. In this heart of the forest, he can feel the hum of nature, the thrum of wildlife, the pulse of Konoha. Rays of white sunlight peek out through the green canopy above, small spotlights.
Small veins trace the edges of his eyes, lidded in concentration. He scans the immediate area, because he felt that unfamiliar chakra three minutes ago and still hasn't found a trace of any intruders. Deeper, he thinks, stretching his vision further.
Miles behind him his destroyed village is being rebuilt; there is no room for allowing strange peoples past the border, not when they are so vulnerable. Even further away is what's left of his team, scattered at random points around the crater that was once their home. Hinata would be better, better with her eyes, but she is still recuperating, and forcing herself would only—
And he is rushing through the trees, the toes of his sandaled feet barely touching the branch before they are leaping for the next, the speed of a shinobi. Small leaves are ripped from their trees, twigs snap off and fly down to meet the forest floor. The scenery becomes a blur. All his eyes see are that one moving figure. An unclear silhouette.
He skids to a stop when he reaches the small clearing.
The first thing he notices about the woman is her Akatsuki cloak.
Enemy, his mind registers with mind-numbing quickness, and the kunai is clutched in his hand before he blinks.
She only gazes at Neji with blank eyes.
"What do you—"
"A leaf shinobi," she murmurs lowly, focused on his headband. Her arms are folded within her large sleeves. He considers the various weapons she may be concealing as her gaze falls to his own eyes. "And a Hyuuga."
He deepens his battle stance, tightens his grip around the kunai. "Back to finish the job?" he sneers, his battle-scarred home lingering in the back of his head.
She remains silent, considering him.
"Why are you here?" he asks angrily, brow furrowing, eyes pulsing with irate chakra. Silence. "Answer me!"
"I mean no harm," she finally answers. A complicated origami rose sits in her dark hair as if to convince him of her kindness and patience. "I'm only wandering now. You can call me Konan."
"I think I'll stick with traitor, if you don't mind," he mutters, discreetly shifting so that his knee stops locking up. "Why have you crossed into Konoha's borders? Do you seek death?"
Her eyes twinkle oddly. "I have just recently lost the last of my friends," she eventually says, and his eyes narrow in confusion. "He gave his life willingly after listening to a boy from your village."
She looks up at the sky, and a small grim smile curves her lips. "I have no reason to pursue his dream anymore. Kill me if you want. It makes no difference."
Neji's grip slackens on the weapon. He licks his lips. These words are either a trap or a plea, and either way he will not succumb to his desire to end her. Behind this desire sits an odd feeling, not quite pity or compassion but something in-between.
He sneers at her, tossing his kunai at her feet, the tip lodging into the ground inches from her toes. Konan doesn't flinch.
She cocks her head, eyes on his face.
"Find another way to kill yourself," he tells her, lifting his chin. "I won't be your executioner."
Her eyes harden. "Do not patronize me. You don't know what you—"
"If you want to die in such a pathetic way, do it elsewhere." He closes his eyes, opens them again. Snorts superiorly. "An end fitting for a criminal."
She doesn't respond, but her eyes flash dangerously.
A knot rises in his throat oddly, almost guiltily, as he proclaims, "I will take you back to Konoha, where you will be sentenced for your crimes against the village."
"You will cage me?" Konan asks. "Hold me behind bars like an animal?" She finally moves, lowering her arms, and Neji watches them warily. "I don't do well with... prisons."
Neji remembers, very deeply and with the soreness of past aches, when he had once considered himself caged, and hesitance slips into his mind like a deadly shadow. He swallows, consummating his resolve.
"I have no choice," he admits, stepping forward. "I owe your capture to my village."
She looks up at the sky yet again. Smiles. A pure one, this time. "I understand."
And suddenly, her figure falls away into a flurry of small white papers. An expletive slips past Neji's lips as he rushes forward, but by this time she has already disappeared. Something dark and heavy weighs down his heart. The taste of failure fills his mouth like copper.
But he can't help feeling almost… relieved.
He whips around regardless, thin veins bulging out from the skin around his eyes— the world becomes chakra points and thin white silhouettes. And searching, searching, searching, he cannot find her through the trees, through the scenery stained in black and white.
He looks up at the sky, where her dim eyes were last focused, and there is a rainbow. With this vision, it is in scales of gray. He blinks, and the sky is filled with them, filled with the long, arced beams of reflected light.
Neji smirks in grim realization.
He makes the hand sign—
— and her illusion falls away.