A/N: Yes, I'm back to wreak havoc on all your heads with yet another piece of writing. Hopefully, by the time you finish reading it, you'll have enough sanity left to give a review.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
"180º55'32"… 180º55'30"…180º55'29"- Wait! Their numbers are dwindling. They no longer have the entire front covered. Mizaki you fool! You told me they were advanci-"
Neji hissed; his lungs felt as if they were being pierced by icicles as he took in a breath of the cold winter air. The signal's been cut. Hiro was backup for the third division. Lee…"
The Hyuuga shifted his eyes through the foliage, his Byakugan taking up the last of his chakra as he searched in vain for comrades. Lying by his feet was Hinata's bloodied body, and near a tree stump to his right, was a dead Shino.
He had carried both of them for miles, leaving behind the clearing littered with corpses and the echoing cries of battle. Unfortunately, his efforts at healing them had been unsuccessful.
"We are near the rendezvous point. But it seems as if everyone else had yet to arrive. He tapped his headphone, but he knew it was no use trying to communicate. The batteries had long since frozen.
Snow crunched beneath his feet as he carried his cousin and lay her down next to her former teammate.
He turned, giving the two one last glance, before leaping onto a branch, scanning the path, and moving on.
I need to find Lee.
He turned his head upward for a moment, taking note of the barren canopy.
This war couldn't have started at a better time, could it? With no leaves, where is a shinobi to hide? There is only snow and muck and-
His brows furrowed as he sensed a faint chakra signature. So oblique was it, in fact, that it fluctuated to nothingness from time to time.
Either they are attempting to conceal their chakra, and failing at it might I add, or they want to confront me. In either case, however, the result most likely will not be in their favor.
He stopped, concentrating on his surroundings. His head throbbed and the world occasionally spun in a complete circle. When everything had stilled once more, another chakra signature made itself obtrusive, and then another and another.
They seemed to waver in their paths, moving from branch to branch in alternating patterns illogically.
They're toying with me, aren't they? Why would a shinobi move in such a dotty manner? If they are trying to hide, they are making quite a show of it. But still…wait, are those-are those kunai?
Neji's eyes widened at the prospect. He turned to face them, the shape becoming clear to him. And so did the fact that there were exploding tags on every single one of the weapons.
I have to move. He leapt down from the branches, on to the icy ground. And suddenly, he was slipping, sliding, sputtering as he tried to regain control of his body.
He cursed as his Byakugan gave out, his chakra depleted to zero. He could hear the familiar whiz of kunai cutting through the air and a "thunk" as they lodged themselves in the tree trunks and detonated.
He raised his arm, shielding his head from debris.
Damn it! But this doesn't make sense! How is there a chakra signature- a thread of chakra! Of course! From that, I can safely deduce they're a long-range fighter. But… wait! Why have the attacks stopped? What is going on?
The Hyuuga glanced about him wildly. He had long since come to a stop by grabbing on to a tree trunk and pulling himself against it. He panted, feeling vulnerable without his Byakugan to guide him.
"Neji!" He spun, his ankle twisting painfully as he slipped on the ice. He searched his surroundings for the source of the voice.
Suddenly, something collided with his back, forcing him onto the ground, gasping for air.
"Neji! Lee, he's in trouble!"
The Hyuuga growled when he realized his other teammate, Tenten, was in fact the boulder that had just knocked the air from his lungs.
"Tenten, get off me," he hissed in pain.
When he managed to stabilize himself on his feet, he gave her a measured look.
"Stop being so reckless," he scolded. Tenten scowled, rolling her eyes and placing her hands on her hips.
"Where is the rest of your squad?" she questioned.
"Dead," Neji told her, not one hint of remorse in his voice. He turned, "Let's go," he called over his shoulder and began to walk.
Tenten stood still, shock ebbing itself in her mind as she digested the information. She watched her teammate's back for a moment before running to catch up to him.
"They're dead?" she asked again.
"I will not repeat myself," Neji responded, keeping his eyes on the path. Tenten slipped in front of him, forcing him to meet her gaze.
"Where are their bodies?" she demanded.
"In a clearing somewhere."
Tenten frowned, "Why didn't you bring them with you?"
Neji sucked in a breath. He was tired, wounded, and cold. He was in no mood to converse with his teammate. "Tenten, shut up and follow me." He knew she wasn't going to listen, and he couldn't understand why he bothered to waste his breath on her. But to his utter surprise and relief, she quieted, falling in step beside him.
Together they trudged through the forest.
Trees and fallen branches lay covered in snow and mud. Pine needles littered the ground. Icicles dangled like daggers from tree limbs above their heads, promising harm if one were to walk underneath.
Virgin snow layered around their ankles, only to be tainted by their footsteps. They were being careless, they knew. Neji was on edge, his fists clenched, and Tenten clutched a kunai in each hand.
"Can you see anything?" Tenten whispered after about an hour. Neji shook his head. His chakra had slowly begun to restore itself, but with the Byakugan activated, it would diminish in minutes.
Tenten wrapped her arms about her, "It's so cold," she commented. The Hyuuga watched her from the corner of his eye, realizing that she was no longer wearing her cloak.
He sighed and stopped. Tenten went on ahead a few paces, deep in thought. But she soon stopped too, when she noticed Neji was no longer next to her. She spun around quickly, her heart pounding. Her kunai were poised, ready to kill.
"Relax, Tenten, and wear this," Neji told her, tossing her his own cloak. She caught it with ease, but did not put it on immediately. She glanced at him wearily.
"Will you be alright?" she asked. The Hyuuga could already feel goose bumps rising on his skin, but he did not tell her so. He merely nodded and started to walk once more after she had put it on.
"I wonder where Lee is," Tenten murmured.
"I'm sure he's fine," Neji assured her. They were quiet, ears straining to detect enemies. Suddenly, they heard a soft crunch of snow behind them.
Tenten caught her partner's gaze from the corner of her eye. Together, they turned around, preparing themselves for an onslaught of attacks. They were surprised, so much that Tenten clutched Neji's sleeve and gasped, realizing it was only a deer.
"We mustn't be quite so paranoid," the Hyuuga whispered, his voice hoarse. He grabbed Tenten's hand, holding it for a few seconds as she calmed down, and then pried it off his arm.
They didn't continue walking, however, until the deer disappeared.
They had only gone a mile, when they encountered their second scare: the dead body of their sensei. Tenten pressed a hand to her lips, stifling a cry of grief. Tears warped her vision till the world seemed like a kaleidoscope. She knelt down next to Gai's body, shakily touching his face. It seemed wrong; how peaceful he looked when he must have been tormented so.
Neji knelt down beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder. He did not utter a word, but let her cry and express her sudden insecurity. Tenten leant down and kissed her sensei's temple, before turning to look at Neji.
The Hyuuga watched as his teammate attempted to wipe the tears that would not cease. He pulled her hands from her face, and wiped her cheeks with his thumbs. They were callused and rough, but they were familiar in a world now so full of oddities. Tenten relished the touch.
Neji pulled her to her feet, keeping his hands on her shoulders to prevent her from collapsing. Slowly, he pulled her closer, and brushed his lips against her hairline.
This seemed soothing enough, for Tenten stopped quaking and crying. In fact, she allowed herself to close her eyes for a moment (something she hadn't done all day), feeling fully protected.
They gave their sensei one last glance, a memory that burned in their minds for the rest of their lives, for they never saw his body again.
Slowly they picked up speed and moved on.
The sun began to set, soon followed by the appearance of a few stars on the horizon. "We should set up camp," Neji said, pausing in his gait. Tenten nodded, shifting closer to him as a shroud of darkness blanketed the forest.
They found a small clearing, protected on all sides by twisted, mangled branches and bending trees.
They didn't eat much, and only took a few sips of water each. Neji offered to take the first watch, seeing at how worn his partner looked. She curled up next to him. The ground was hard, dirty, and cold, but she felt safe being close to the Hyuuga.
Soon after she had gone to sleep, Neji gently shifted her body, so that her head rested on his lap. He placed two fingers on the side of her neck, feeling her pulse. The constant beating calmed him. She was alive, a fact he cherished. He had seen so many pairs of lifeless eyes, numerous battered bodies, all in too little time.
When Tenten awoke, early the next morning, she nearly screamed when she felt something cold on her neck. Fearing it to be a knife, she slowly reached up to touch it. Upon realizing they were fingers, Neji's fingers, she turned onto her other side.
She was asleep in his lap, a revelation that caused her to flush in embarrassment. Fearing she had rolled onto him in the middle of the night, and her partner had let it slide for once, she sat up and scooted away.
In that instant, Neji's eyes shot open and he snapped his head in her direction. "Where are you going?" he questioned, raising an eyebrow.
Tenten jumped at the sound of his voice. "I'm sorry," she said.
"Pardon?" the Hyuuga waited patiently for her to respond.
"I'm sorry," she repeated.
"For what, may I ask?" Neji's cocked his head to the side.
"For, you know… rolling on top of you at night." Tenten's cheeks reddened, and she prayed the Hyuuga would just assume it was the cold.
"I moved you onto my lap," her partner told her, as if it were absolutely normal. Tenten sputtered, eyes growing the size of saucers.
"You moved me?" she squeaked.
"You would hurt your neck if you continued to lie on the ground," Neji told her. It was a lie, of course. He had just wanted her closer to him, but this he would never admit.
Tenten blinked, before responding with a quiet "oh." Neji caught the slight note of disappointment in her voice, but decided not to pester her about it now; they needed to get moving.
Breakfast was a simple mixture of dried fruit and water. After a half hour of preparations, they strapped their packs onto their backs and leapt to the branches. Chakra and strength fully restored, they made good time.
Neji activated his Byakugan, pleased that he was no longer limited to seeing what was twenty feet away from him.
By the afternoon, however, the two were blind. Clouds, ready to unleash a full-fledged blizzard upon their heads, had crept over the forest during the night. It was snowing quite heavily, and combined with the slippery conditions, the two were forced to walk.
Neji entangled his hand with Tenten's, as to not lose her. They trudged, wet and freezing, until they stumbled upon a fox's den.
It was abandoned, as far as they could tell, and both quickly crawled inside. They sat, pressed together, trying to trap some heat in their bodies. Tenten began to sniffle and sneeze, and much to her chagrin, fell ill.
She urged Neji to move on without her, but had been quickly silenced by a slender finger pressed to her lips, and a stern glare.
"I'm not leaving you alone," he told her, and she left it at that.
Neji held her under his chin for hours, rubbing her back soothingly. Tenten soon fell asleep, her fingers clutching the fabric of the Hyuuga' shirt with much force.
He gently pried them loose, and laid his cheek on her head.
They had grown to trust each other immensely over the course of their years on team Gai. Tenten allowed herself to be vulnerable around Neji. Neji only let down his guard when Tenten was around. They were inseparable, and only picky about missions they were not assigned together.
Tenten began to stir. Neji held perfectly still until she opened her eyes. He then inclined his head and pressed his forehead to hers.
"Are you feeling alright?" he murmured. Tenten's eyes were still glazed and thick with drowsiness. He waited a few more minutes as the haziness lifted.
She yawned, and Neji loosed his arms around her, allowing her ample room to stretch.
"Where is Lee?" she asked, leaning back against him.
"I don't know," Neji answered, wishing quite the opposite was true. Sure Lee could be obnoxiously loud at times, but his cheerfulness had begun to grow on his other two teammates. Eventually, they learned not to become irritated by his attitude, but to simply nod along. It was just the boy's nature, something that had become very endearing about him.
"Well wherever he is, let's just hope he's alive. Even if it means he's barely breathing," Tenten said. Neji nodded in agreement and the two again prepared themselves for the journey.
The blizzard had turned from large sheets of snow, to flurries. However, the sky was still darkened by angry gray clouds.
Neji scanned the path with his Byakugan. This time, they weren't alone.
"There are about five shinobi up ahead. I'd say about seven miles. If we take an alternative route that way, " he paused to point in the direction, " we may be able to ambush them."
Tenten considered this. "Do we have to fight?" she asked. Neji spun to face her, quite surprised. He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion.
"Are you sure you're all right?" he questioned, pressing the back of his hand to her forehead.
She swatted it away. "Neji, we shouldn't waste time picking a fight. We need to find our friends," she reasoned.
The Hyuuga knew she had a point, but he hadn't done anything productive for a whole thirty-six hours! He was itching to feel the adrenaline course through his veins as he cut down his enemy.
"Tenten, we won't kill them right away. We can always interrogate them to see if they know of anyone's whereabouts. Alright?" he said, turning back around. He leapt to a tree branch.
"Coming?" he asked. Tenten was reluctant, but followed. She traveled a bit slower, as a result of her recent sickness. Neji slowed down to match his pace with hers. He made a mental note to not let her out of his sight during the battle.
Even with their decreased speed, they still moved remarkably quickly. Gai's vigorous training had not been without reason.
As they approached the shinobi, one in particular caught their eye. They had found Lee.
He was terribly beaten and his clothing was tattered. He was bound and pushed along, probably half unconscious.
Tenten bit her lip, wanting so badly to look away. She could feel anger roll off Neji's form in thick waves. No one messed with anyone he cared about, absolutely no one.
"You ready?" he asked, his fists tightening. She answered with a soft "yes".
He turned his head sideways, gazing at her out of the corner of his eye. "Stay close to me," he instructed, "Call for help if you need it. I will not tolerate you ending up in the same position as Lee. Understand?"
She nodded and readied her scrolls. The plan was for her to unleash her barrage of weapons as a distraction while Neji swept in and took Lee to safety. He would then help her finish whoever survived.
Tenten bit her thumb and smeared blood on the parchment. Quickly performing a few had signs, she leapt into the air and began stage one of the attack. Neji waited for the shinobi to turn around and face her, but they never did. Lee was the only one who looked over his shoulder.
They're all clones! All, but Lee! Neji thought, eyes widening, He jumped to the ground and sprinted to protect Lee using his kaiten.
"Stop!" he called. "These aren't the real ones!"
Lee mumbled something incoherent, before he slumped against Neji. The Hyuuga cursed under his breath, his Byakugan frantically searching for hidden chakra.
They've been following us. They waited till we caught up with the clones carrying Lee to attack. But why didn't I… the kunai! Of course! When they exploded, my Byakugan gave out. The smoke was a cover up while they stationed themselves. But then again, how did they know my range limit? And how could they… Hinata! I left her in that clearing. She doesn't have the curse mark; her Byakugan won't deteriorate! They must have used some jutsu or-or revived her-or something of the sort, to figure out the information. We-I was such a fool!
Neji picked up a faint chakra signature and growled. He grabbed Tenten's arm and pulled her against him.
"Take Lee and get to safety. These guys are clever and you both are in no condition to fight," he whispered in her ear, before pushing her behind him. "Wait till I distract them, then run!"
He slipped into his battle stance, glaring at his opponents. Tenten shifted Lee onto her back, preparing to escape. But she would come back. She refused to leave Neji to fight all alone.
Neji charged, in the mood for much blood shed. Tenten darted the opposite way, not pausing till she was a mile away. She panted, and placed Lee on the ground. She had to make sure he remained safe, but how? She looked about her, searching for a space to hide him.
Grumbling when she could find no such spot, she set out to make one. She dug a hold in the ground and placed Lee within it. She then covered the hole with branches and shrubbery. Passing shinobi would obviously think it was a trap and would avoid it. She then strung kunai and senbon needles dipped in poison on barbed wire and prepared a real trap, just in case.
Satisfied, she made her way back to the battle scene, only to find a nightmare come true when she arrived. Neji lay covered in blood on the ground. An enemy ninja was preparing to decapitate him with a sword.
Tenten did not know how to stop him, her mind blanking at the thought of losing her partner. And so, she screamed.
Unknown to her, Neji was trapped in a genjutsu. In the illusion, he was watching helplessly as Tenten and Lee were stabbed to death. It had led him to believe Tenten hadn't really followed orders, but instead stuck around to aid him.
But her scream, he did not know how it reached him, but that scream brought him to his senses. He rose from the ground and blindly dashed towards his assailant. He tried again and again to jab him, but each time, he only felt air.
And then he felt a sword go right through his stomach. He slumped to his knees, coughing up blood.
"You're not strong enough to protect them. You're a failure!" the shinobi jeered, kicking him in the face.
"No," the Hyuuag rasped, "You're wrong. I will defeat you… because… I have a reason I cannot lose!" Neji managed to say between gasps and shoots of pain.
He was punched and sent flying back into a tree. He swore he felt his neck crack from the impact. He was paralyzed, from the collarbone down, he soon discovered. The enemy approached him, ready to kill him.
"NEJI! GET UP!" The same plea repeated itself, until he found himself saying it too. He felt a dull pain in his hip, and when he opened his eyes, he realized the genjutsu had been broken.
Tenten was peering down at him, tears streaming down her cheeks and plopping onto his face.
"Tenten? What-" But he did not bother to finish his question when he saw her shake her head. She buried her face in his chest, crying hard.
"You idiot! What if they killed you? What then, huh?" she scolded.
Neji couldn't help but chuckle. "I wouldn't ever leave you alone," he told her.
He held true to his word, for in the morning, when she and Lee awoke, he was still there.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading and please review!