A/N: alright, this is to explain the origin of the title and its meaning. "Mu Byonna" is actually from an African dialect am not so fluent in, but it means "In All Things." Since I hate it when I read OOC fan fiction, I tried to make the characters as close to the ones we know as possible. However, not everyone was meant for writing, so if I don't live up to this standard, forgive me.
The title of the story actually flows with the respective chapter titles, i.e., this chapter is entitled '…even in loss' so the whole idea is to read it as "In All Things…even in loss." This is my first multi-chapter story and I hope you like it; so without further ado, I give you…Mu Byonna
Disclaimer: are you kidding; of course I don't own Naruto!
…even in loss.
The birds were chirruping, the leaves were rustling in the breeze and even the sun seemed to shine brighter than usual; it was a perfectly normal day-or so it seemed.
A sudden explosion broke the calm of the forest. The birds frantically flew off in all directions, the leaves were blasted into smithereens and the rays of the sun were blocked out by the swiftly rising cloud of dust.
Neji was the first to stumble from the cloud; eyes surrounded with chakra engorged vessels but yet squinting. He staggered a few steps forward, clutching his chest and collapsed to the ground gasping for air. Forcing himself to sit up despite the injuries he bore, Neji forced the last of his chakra out to activate his byakugan. Barely seeing beyond 2 meters, he nevertheless tried to expand his field of vision.
When he saw Gai-sensei stumbling out of the cloud carrying an unconscious Lee on his back, Neji let out an involuntary sigh. He squinted in an effort to push more chakra into his eyes. He was pushing it, he knew, but this was vital. Unfortunately, there's only so much that the human body can take and without any warning, his byakugan suddenly deactivated.
Neji's eyes widened, silver orbs uncommonly showing emotion. He was dismayed, having failed her when she needed him the most. Gasping as a wave of pain washed over him, he collapsed back to the ground.
"Tenten…" he groaned before darkness swallowed him
Yes, it had seemed like a perfect day-until his heart was ripped out.
A porcelain cat face smiled down upon the destruction before it. This was surreal considering the face behind the mask was quite grim. Having seen a suspicious burst of light come from the forest on his patrol, the ANBU operative behind the cat mask had gathered a small team and set off to check it out. Now, as he looked upon the unconscious bodies before him, he couldn't help the shiver that ran down his back. His face wore a troubled look but the mask hid it well, there was no point in letting the others see his unease.
"Ox, Falcon, we're carrying these three back. Wolf, go back to the village, Hokage-sama must know about this as soon as possible."
All 3 shinobi nodded once and set about their tasks. Hoisting the Hyuuga onto his back, the ANBU operative shook his head. He never expected to see three seriously injured bodies of Leaf shinobi when he rushed to investigate the strange light.
As he shot of in the direction of the village, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was not right.
Tsunade sank into the chair with a sigh as she pondered the day's events. The ANBU with the wolf mask had appeared in her office, and in a controlled voice informed her of the unconscious members of Team Gai found during an evening patrol. The elite shinobi did not have much to relay, as information about how the 3 ended up in that state would have to be gotten after they woke up.
But that was just it, according to the ANBU unit, only 3 individuals were found and no sign of a fourth person could be unearthed. Tsunade frowned as she contemplated this; Tenten had been with the team when they set off 2 days back, but now she couldn't be found and signs of a struggle were surprisingly missing as well. Only footsteps of the males in Team Gai could be seen in the crater resulting from the blast. The only conclusions that could be made at that point were: the kunoichi was carried off, or she had left on her own. Either way, whatever happened did so before the explosion occurred.
The damage to the other 3 members was not fatal and most of it was repaired. Even with the chakra exhaustion, they would all be conscious within a day or 2 at most but that was small consolation in comparison to the puzzle at hand.
"I hate Mondays" Tsunade groaned as she drank from a bottle of sake-her first of many for the night.
She turned to face the village from her office in the Hokage tower and blinked at what she saw. Raindrops were hitting the glass pane with increasing frequency and from the looks of things; it seemed this was going to last for a while.
"This is going to cause problems" Tsunade muttered as she reached for another bottle of sake.
Indeed, there was a good reason why she hated Mondays.
The wind was blowing rather harshly and there were dark clouds looming in the distance.
"It's going to be quite a storm." Tenten observed.
"Correct! We must find a place to shelter us from the harsh elements of weather before they taint our youth," the green clad man next to her replied.
"Yosh! I will strive to find us a shelter in 30 seconds and if I can't, I will run 100 laps around this forest facing Mother Nature's darker side!" Lee enthusiastically offered.
"That won't be necessary Lee." Tenten said with a sigh. "You don't have to push yourself so far. I'm sure Neji can find us a shelter in less time, right Neji?"
"Hn" the genius scoffed but nevertheless activated his byakugan.
Neji blocked out the protests of his strange teammate and proceeded to search for areas to shelter them from the threatening storm. They were close to the Leaf Village but could not get there before the storm hit them. While scanning the surrounding vicinity, he noticed something odd. There suddenly seemed to be too many bushes around them and on looking at them, he noticed they hid similar devices. He had never seen these before and turned around to inform his teammates, hoping it wasn't already too late.
His hopes were dashed as he seemed to watch in slow motion while Lee accidentally fell over a bush. Neji tried to run towards his friends but he couldn't reach them fast enough. Everything was horribly slow.
"Tenten!" He called out.
She turned to look at him with a confused expression on her face; she didn't realize the danger she was in. Neji watched in horror as her expression turned to fear before a sudden flash of light blinded him and a powerful force blasted him backwards.
"Neji!" a panicked voice called out to him. "NEJI!"
A piercing scream suddenly filled the air.
"Tenten!" he yelled. Heart pounding in his ear, the man tried to find which direction the voice was coming from. He squinted in an effort to see through the dust as he tried to stand up but failed.
"Neji! I need you!" This time the voice was more strained, as if she was crying. "Neji!"
Panic was rising up in his chest but he pushed it down; he needed to stay focused. Suddenly the dust cleared a bit and his heart sank when he saw Tenten. Struggling to his feet yet again, he stumbled over to her and fell to his knees as he took in the sight before him.
She was covered in dust and two of her limbs were bent at odd angles. There were slashes on her legs and a deep gash in her abdomen. Tears streamed down her face as she looked up, her gaze somewhat dazed. How could this have happened?
He reached out to her but her blood was everywhere and it soon covered his hands. It was rushing out at an alarming rate as if it couldn't wait to soak him.
"You lied to me." Neji froze at her whispered words. "You lied…you said you'd p-protect me. I needed you. I called your name…"
Neji felt like thousands of senbon were piercing his heart. He sharply sucked in a breath when her gaze focused on him.
"You didn't come. When I needed you most…you lied.
These last words, though barely audible rang in his ears over and over again and they sliced through his heart deeper than any blade could. He tried to call out to her, to tell her what he truly felt, but his voice would not come out. She was giving up too soon, there was still time, she was not going to die, but nothing came out. He was failing her again; when she needed comfort, he couldn't provide it.
Neji was stupefied, was he really this inept? He tried to hold her, not giving up without a fight, but all that he felt was her blood. It was everywhere, covering the forest, his clothes, his vision…
"Tenten!" he tried to call out as he saw her vision become unfocused. She focused on him again and whispered a few words…words that sent his mind spinning with the rejection he felt. She had said them in a matter-of-fact way, as if she believed them wholly. This realization made him feel hollow inside, like all his organs had disappeared leaving darkness in their place. Just 3 words…
"It's your fault…"
Neji's eyes shot open. A white light blinded him, sending shock waves through his optical nerves and consequently increasing the pounding in his head. He closed them suddenly and let out a breath in an effort to soothe the headache and suppress the adrenalin pumping in his veins. The pain, though unwanted, was slowly taking his attention away from the horrible dream he'd woken from.
"Nii-san?" a soft voice called out to him.
He slowly opened his eyes in an effort to allow them to get accustomed to the light as he tried to get the nightmare out of his head by studying his surroundings. Glancing painfully around the unfamiliar room, Neji deduced he was in a hospital judging from the pristine white walls, lack of furniture except for his bed and a chair and not to mention the i.v. in his arm. There was a figure seated in said chair and Neji squinted as he tried to focus on the person; he tried to sit up when he realized who it was.
"You shouldn't push yourself Neji nii-san" the voice said as a hand on his shoulder and another on his back tried to gently push him back down. "You have only just woken up."
'Hinata-sama' Neji said-or at least tried to. All that came out was a low moan. He blinked in surprise, but relaxed when he remembered that due to lack of constant lubrication in his throat, it was dry and so he couldn't speak effectively.
He licked his lips when he heard water being poured and was relieved to see Hinata hand him a glass filled with the liquid seconds later. Neji reached out for the glass and took small sips, remembering to slowly ease his parched throat into the process.
Hinata took the glass when he was done and asked how he was feeling. She had changed a lot over the years and though the woman standing before him resembled the shy, naïve 12 yr old many remembered, it was only in the physical.
Despite the change, she had not lost the tenderness of heart that made her care and concern for others' wellbeing second nature. Hinata had, however, gained a lot of confidence in herself and her abilities (which were nothing to laugh about by the way) that, at age 20, she was a strong and capable kunoichi; one that many shinobi - Neji included - would be proud to fight alongside.
"Hinata-sama, how long have I been unconscious?"
Hinata stiffened; Neji was a practical individual so it was not surprising he had asked that particular question first. Though that being said, he still was not going to like the answer.
"A-ano, Neji nii-san…it has b-been a while…"
Neji frowned at the slight stutter. Hinata had long since gotten rid of the speech impediment, but it returned once in a while when she was under pressure or when she bumped into Naruto inadvertently.
"How long?" he pushed
Hinata sighed in resignation and gave the answer. "3 days."
Neji's eyes widened; he was too tired to try and shutter his expressions as usual.
A lot could have transpired in that amount of time. What about…
"Gai-sensei and Lee-san are alright," Hinata replied as if reading his thoughts. "B-but Tenten-san…"
Neji stiffened at the telltale stutter again, his heart sinking. He turned to her, commanding and yet pleading at the same time with his eyes, for her to continue.
Hinata looked down; she didn't want to see his reaction when she told him the facts – the look of distress on his face was painful enough to look at. This was news that would trouble him further, but Hinata knew she would have insisted on knowing if it were her in that position, and so she told him.
"Tenten-san's body could not be found. We…my team and I tried to search, b-but it had rained…her scent was washed away. Both Kiba-kun and Shino-kun could not find any trail to follow…"
Neji's chest became tighter and tighter with each sentence Hinata made until it was hard for him to breathe; her voice fading into the background. His nightmare had been grossly twisted but it now felt chillingly real; he had failed her when she needed him the most. Unable to contain himself any longer, he interrupted Hinata's apologies.
"Hinata-sama, arigato but…may I have a moment alone?" Neji asked softly.
Hinata was sharp enough to know that though the dismissal was phrased as a question, it was no less than a command. She wanted to stay and give her cousin some support, but she could not do so without making him feel extremely uncomfortable. He had the right to demand privacy as he thought things through but…but nevertheless, it hurt to be sent away so abruptly.
She stood up and opened the door, but paused for a moment.
"Ano, nii-san. You should know she would never blame you for this." Hinata said before she closed the door.
Neji visibly flinched at Hinata's words. He really wanted to believe them but…
"What if you're wrong?" he asked the empty room.
Nara Shikamaru was not what one would call 'an involved ninja;' far from it, he loved nothing better than to lie back, watch the clouds and wander in his own thoughts. He lacked the constant enthusiasm of ninja like Uzumaki Naruto or the cold arrogance of genii like Uchiha Sasuke or Hyuuga Neji; rather, he preferred to calmly calculate chances of success and would get involved in a fight only when he deemed it worth the trouble. This was not to say that he didn't get his fair share of action, or trouble. One could hardly say that getting caught between a strong headed Yamanaka heiress and an equally determined Sand princess was peaceful.
Sighing, Shikamaru closed his eyes in a futile attempt to clear his head. There was only one kunoichi on his mind and she was not blonde. The circumstances under which Tenten disappeared were troubling, and worse was the fact that not even a single hint of her whereabouts had turned up even after two weeks.
Any traces of the woman were long gone and along with them went any hope of finding her. After the initial shock that a ninja could disappear so suddenly with no clue as to what had happened many of the shinobi had settled back into their daily routines, leaving the Hokage to deal with the challenge of finding her. Of course, Neji had demanded that he lead the search parties, but the Hokage had refused, saying that it would be a waste of his abilities; after all, he was an ANBU captain. It went without saying though, that the Hyuuga was too personally involved in the matter and this would cloud any judgment he made – however, how personally involved he was, was anybody's guess.
Shikamaru couldn't help but smirk at this thought. Though he really didn't know Neji at a personal level (who did anyway), he could tell that over the years, the Hyuuga had grown extremely close to Tenten and Shikamaru had no doubt that the two were romantically involved. It could all be seen in the way Tenten would suddenly glow when she saw Neji, or how they had carefully avoided standing close to each other in public and even in the way Neji had glared at any male who happened to look at Tenten for longer than necessary – even 8 years later, that glare still had its power.
The two had hidden it well, but Shikamaru was not called a genius for nothing. That being said, he envied the Hyuuga somewhat; after all, Neji had managed to hold a stable relationship even though he had hundreds of fan-girls fighting over him.
All this taken into account explained the state the Hyuuga was in. Neji walked around with the sense of a man who was clinging onto his work for sanity. He had refused to listen to anyone's advice or consolations; even going so far as to ignore the Hokage's demands that he take a few days off to rest. The 21 year old man had somehow managed to get his work done while effectively and efficiently staying out of public sight. No one had seen him in several days.
A frown crossed the Nara's face when he thought about this deeper. It was strange that Neji had not forced his way out of the village to search for the bun-haired kunoichi. Shikamaru had no doubt that the two had been more than friends and judging from what he had seen, the Hyuuga's emotions – though rarely shown – were intense; ranging from his hatred to his loyalty. So it didn't make any sense.
What puzzled him more was that the attack on Team Gai was seemingly random. It was odd that they had been attacked in the Land of Fire, more so, half a day away from the Leaf Village. ANBU officials regularly patrolled the area, so it was unlikely that they would have missed an enemy or a non-Leaf ninja. This left only one other scenario, the attack was not from an enemy, it came from within the Leaf Village and the culprit knew exactly who it was they wanted and where they'd be. This sent a chill down the shadow user's back. If the perpetrator had planned all this, the Leaf Village was in deep trouble.
Shikamaru opened his eyes but frowned at what he saw – there were no clouds in the sky.
"Troublesome," he muttered as he sat up and contemplated sharing his suspicions with the temperamental Hokage. Even though he had thought the matter through and through, he still couldn't help but feel that he was missing something.
The training grounds enclosed in Konoha's forests were the most peaceful, but this did not help the Hyuuga prodigy who was seated beneath a tree in a meditating position. How could the world exude such a sense of peace when he felt like ripping out his heart to stop the aching there? That, coupled with the emptiness his entire being was floating in, served to put him in the foul mood he was in.
Unsuccessfully trying to keep himself from frowning, he pondered on the past events. Neji had never before experienced trouble with keeping his emotions hidden, but the past couple of weeks had given him enough experience in the matter. The explosion had muddled Tenten's scent with various other burning odors and as if that was not enough, the heavy rainfall a few hours later had washed away any traces left of his teammate's innate smell.
Neji had talked to the Hokage, trying to convince her that he should lead a team to carry out a search for the kunoichi, but she had refused, telling him that he was needed elsewhere and should take a few days off to allow his body to rest.
Of course, Neji knew that she had meant he was too closely involved with the case and should try to gather his emotions before he did anything else. He had stormed out of her office with cold fury and gone back to the Hyuuga compound with the intention to leave the village in search of Tenten that very night. He knew the consequences of leaving the village without permission, but his anger, hurt and guilt egged him on. He didn't care anymore! That night, he had set out for the village gates and would have gone ahead with his plan if someone hadn't suddenly pounced on him, pinning him to the ground.
Neji had gotten over his surprise at the action soon enough and engaged in a tussle with his assailant. The fight was brief and somewhere along the way, he had discovered it was Lee who had ambushed him. Furious, he had demanded to know his teammate's reasons for the action and Lee, true to his nature, had replied that the genius was unnecessarily attempting to taint his youth and should rethink his actions.
This had done nothing to help Neji's mood and so he had attempted to walk away but Lee stopped him yet again, this time with a fist to the stomach. Neji was enraged, both at Lee and at himself for not seeing the blow coming. They engaged in another tussle and in an attempt to get the youth-obsessed man off him, Neji told Lee it was his fault that Tenten was missing and if he wasn't so stupid and uncoordinated, then the explosion would not have happened and Tenten would have been around.
This had had the desired effect and Lee had stopped in his tracks, staring at Neji in confusion and hurt. However, Neji had not felt appeased in the least; rather, he felt even guiltier and so, in a cruel attempt to transfer his guilt, Neji had driven the knife deeper, telling Lee that by trying to stop him, the green clad man was in fact betraying Tenten.
Neji stood up and tried to shake the memories from his head. It had ended when Lee snapped out of his shock and told Neji he knew what it felt like, but that leaving the village was not the way to fix it. At this point, the cruelty of his words had finally hit Neji and when the Tai-jutsu specialist had left, Neji went back to the Hyuuga compound and resolved to take another approach to the situation.
This was not to say that his plan-B was ingenious. Rather, the Byakugan user had engulfed himself in his work and in his free time, tried to avoid everyone he knew. So it was rather annoying when he felt a familiar chakra signature heading his way at an alarming speed.
"Neji!" a voice rang.
The Hyuuga turned to face the person and was greeted with a rather grim-looking Naruto. This was odd; everyone knew the whiskered ninja was constantly jolly.
"What?" Neji demanded.
Naruto raised an eyebrow at this; the man had never been one for too many words, but a simple hello wasn't too much to ask for, was it? Shrugging it off, Naruto stated the news he bore, knowing it would relieve the Hyuuga.
"Tenten-Chan has been found. I don't know much, but Tsunade Baa-Chan is tending to her. I thought you should know."
Neji blinked. The Kyuubi vessel had long stopped the incessant yelling he had been prone to, but it somehow felt like the words had been shouted into his ear. Snapping out of his shock, he narrowed his eyes and replied.
"Uzumaki, you had better not be lying."
Naruto just flashed him a grin– oblivious to the use of his surname – and shot off into the woods.
Neji blinked again. His mind was suddenly blank. It was true?
He disappeared into the forest as well, only one word occupying his mind.
"Tenten…" he whispered.
A/N: Aannd scene! Well this is the first of a series of chapters. Let me know what you think. Hope I can please the readers out there. Oh, this is my first shot at a multi-chapter story, so please review, it doesn't take much you know (^_^)